When I was a kid I wanted to be just like Shaun Cassidy. Heck, I wanted to BE Shaun Cassidy. Now sometimes I wish, oh I wish, I were just like Brené Brown. She’s always been twenty steps ahead of me. Every time she comes out with a new book or a new theme in her public speaking I think, “Hey, I could’ve said that. Where’s my book deal?” Once or twice I’ve even daydreamed about how I’d change my name if I were to become the next Brené Brown. Goodbye Daniel Doucette, hello Danny Deuce! Then I come crashing back down to earth realizing how I had better keep on track with being myself.
We all have our role models. They stand out as an idealized version of a Someone we aspire to be. More articulate. More skillful. More recognized. More loved. More inspiring. More creative. We try emulating them, constructing gestures, postures and phrases to convey that Someone to our family, friends and colleagues. In fact, we probably cultivated a variety of Someone’s to trot out depending on the setting.
Me? Well, for example, there’s been the Take-Charge Brother, the Intense-but-Fun CFO, the You-Can-Always-Confide-In-Me Colleague, and the Brutally-Blunt Best Friend. And believe me, that’s only a sample. What all of my Someones have in common is they eventually got to be too habitual. Too much of a coping mechanism. Too much of an excuse to not take more risks by being more real and authentic in any given moment. Each of these Someones started with my good intentions, just emulating characteristics I admired in a role model. Then over time they grew into carefully constructed personas I maintained either out of habit or because I believed others expected it of me.
Authentic leadership is a matter of self-possession. If we must insist on a competency to focus on, that’s the one: self-possession.
Nowhere is this Being Someone Syndrome more pronounced than in the workplace, especially regarding how people exercise leadership. There’s a whole industry dedicated to instructing us on what great leadership looks like. We’re told ever more precisely who we are supposed to be in order to be a good leader. We want to be told which skills and competencies we need to acquire. We take elaborate, “statistically validated” evaluations to tell us our strengths and weaknesses. There’s money to be made if you can develop a robust leadership competencies survey and produce glossy reports with scatter plot graphs and colorful bar charts. All this wonderful data pinpoints just where to focus as we construct more habits in emulation of a new Effective Leader Someone.
In recent years, lots of the buzz in the leadership industry has been all about “authenticity.” So naturally, we ask what are the competencies we need to master in order to be that Real-Authentic Leader person. It’s an ironic question, isn’t it? Just about as ironic as my admiring Brené Brown so much that I wanted to be her! Of course the answer is (well, it should be) that there is no list of key competencies that we can learn and hone to be that Real-Authentic Leader. Authentic leadership is a matter of self-possession. If we must insist on a competency to focus on, that’s the one: self-possession.
I know, it’s not an easy one. It’s not one we can learn in a two-day seminar. Self-possession is the competency we must necessarily continue to work on throughout a lifetime. I know that’s not the answer you want because it doesn’t promise a short-term resolution.
Authentic leadership is a never-ending practice. It entails integrity, humility, generosity, empathy and resilience. We each possess all of those characteristics, although the variously constructed Someones we tend to show up as every day mask those traits to varying degrees. If we focus on de-constructing the Someone façades that we habitually hide behind, then we can access more of our Authentic Leader. It’s just us.
Yes, first, I wanted to be Shaun Cassidy. Later, I wanted to be Brené Brown, or at least Danny Deuce. When I finally began to pause to quietly reflect on it, I was greatly relieved to understand I can let go of those fruitless wishes. It’s easier practicing being me. And that’s the best inspiration any of us can ever offer anyone else.
Written by Daniel Doucette