What Does a Strong CEO Look Like?
Does Jack Welch come to mind? Strong, tough, driven, smart, Neutron Jack? Or how about Jim Collin’s definition of a Level 5 leader in his landmark book “Good to Great,” where the ultimate CEO is defined as having a humility about himself while maintaining an undaunted passion for his company’s success?
Many of us have strong type-casts for what excellent leadership looks like. It may come from an old movie or from real life heroes. And while such images are valuable to provide us with examples of ways to be impactful, they can be harmful if we try to emulate a style that is not really us. This applies whether it’s the natural domineering leader who is trying to appear as a concerned people-person or a natural collaborator trying to project a hard-line image.
The Strongest CEO I Can Be Looks Like Me
Leadership must come from an authentic place. When you try to shoehorn yourself into a particular mold, you begin to act through a projection, a facade. Doing so is ineffective for three reasons: it is exhausting, it is inefficient, and your followers will see straight through it.
It is exhausting and inefficient for the same reason. You are putting your leadership horsepower through some filter or “gear reduction” in order to create what you believe is a more ideal style. This constant second-guessing of yourself simply takes more energy than playing from your natural stance. Plus, nobody can hide their true style consistently over a long period of time. Leadership is a contact sport and your followers will have plenty of opportunities to see you up close and personal in many settings. The stress between who you are and how you lead will surely emerge.
A CEO must be aware of who they are naturally. If you lead from your center, you do not have to constantly exhaust yourself by trying to project a fake persona. You are able to spend your energies attending to the needs of your company instead of keeping up your facade as the stereotypical executive. This approach has the added benefit of visible authenticity. Your employees will respond far better to your leadership when they see it coming from a real place.
Growth is Allowed
I am not suggesting that a leader refrain from developing new capabilities. If you are a command and control leader who needs to learn to listen better, by all means do so. If you are a sensitive leader who needs to learn to be more comfortable with conflict, take it on. Growth in capabilities and skills is always a plus.
I am just warning about fundamentally trying to lead from a place where you are not authentic. Even if the fake leadership style seems like it should be more effective; even if that’s the way you were taught that good leaders lead; even if your childhood (or adulthood) hero led that way, be careful. The best leaders take the time to know themselves well. Have the courage to lead from the inside out.