By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th May 2020
Many of the people that I work with, on RiverRhee’s management courses, and also in one-to-one coaching, are either relatively new to management, or transitioning from a management to a leadership role.
One of the things that we stress in our leadership course is the importance of being authentic: being true to yourself. People respond to who you are. If this is at odds with what you say and do, this can not only cause stress to yourself, but also affect other people’s trust in you.
So how does this sit with Goleman’s (2000) description of different leadership styles, and the suggestion that leaders should flex their style to meet different situational requirements? And how does that sit with the concept of a manager as coach?
There may be some answers from Frei and Morriss (2020) in their HBR article: “Begin with trust. The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader”.
Authenticity is when you are being “the real you”: in terms of what you know, what you believe, what you think and how you feel.
Many of us are aware that we are different when at work to how we are at home. Why is that? What is making us behave differently? What are we holding back of our better selves in one or the other environment?
I’d be intrigued to know whether the “current situation” (as many of us are calling it), where many people find themselves working from home, or otherwise dealing with exceptional circumstances, is making a difference. Are we being more open, more genuine, more consistently our true selves? If so, what difference is that making to the quality of our interactions with others? Is it creating more trust?
Empathy is the second of three components that Frei and Morriss (2020) suggest are essential for creating trust. It’s an easy quality to recognise that managers and leaders have needed to tap into at the present time.
Many people are juggling so many conflicting demands: looking after children at home or worrying about elderly parents whilst still trying to meet expectations for their work.
Empathy sits well with the affiliative leadership style where people come first. It relies on creating harmony and building emotional bonds. It’s great for motivating people during times of stress.
Empathy also sits well with a coaching style of leadership: one where you are paying attention to an individual’s strengths and values as well as their feelings, and supporting them in their development.
Could a leader, who is not naturally empathetic, argue against digging deep within themselves to find some empathy when a situation demands it on the grounds that this is not their authentic self?
Perhaps their loss of authenticity, and the risk to how others trust them, would be to go overboard with the empathy, rather than not demonstrating any at all when the situation does demand it?
The role of logic
Logic is the last of the three components in Frei and Morriss’s (2020) triangle of trust.
Logic is needed to be able to effectively communicate the information and data supporting a course of action that you are advocating.
Logic is an important asset for the authoritative style of leadership: where a manager or leader is communicating a vision to encourage people to adopt a new way of working for example. Interestingly, Goleman also lists empathy as one of the qualities for authoritative leadership.
The democratic leadership style also relies on information and data: where a leader is seeking input to shape the new way forward. Although Goleman does not emphasise empathy as a component of this style, it is a collaborative one.
So, can a manager or leader (or coach) be authentic and still switch into either one of these two other styles of leadership, using logic effectively, when the situation demands it? Without acting against their character, and without jeopardising trust? Again, to be able to do so would seem both desirable and possible and, in the right situation, likely to inspire trust in the leader.
It may be that being able to access and communicate information and data at the necessary level of detail is not something that comes naturally to all managers and leaders. In which case, the important thing is to be conscious of this and either develop this ability, or ask for support from others in the team. Pretending to be more knowledgeable, or being otherwise misleading would certainly jeopardise trust.
A look at coercive and pace-setting leadership styles
These two styles are described as ‘negative’ ones in that they demand instant action and cooperation from the team. There is no room for empathy, consultation or collaboration.
These are perhaps the two styles that raise the greatest questions, for me, about authenticity. If either one is someone’s natural style, then it will be harder for them to switch to any of the other four. And vice versa.
We know why managers and leaders need to be able to switch into the other four, as described above.
There may also be occasions though when the coercive or pace-setting styles are appropriate:
- The coercive style of leadership may be needed in a crisis, when time is of the essence, when health, safety, security or the company’s reputation are at stake
- The pacesetting style of leadership may also be appropriate when time is short and work needs to be delivered to a specified quality or turn-around time. It’s likely to work best when everyone knows exactly what they need to do and are competent and motivated to do so.
By definition both these leadership styles would seem to be ones to adopt in the short-term, before reverting to one of the other four more collaborative or empathetic styles.
Could a manager or leader (or coach) still feel they are being authentic if they were to switch into one of these two styles, if it was not their most natural?
How are these reflections resonating with you?
Who is the authentic you?
Do you inspire trust in your team as a manager or leader, or in the people that you coach?
What role do empathy and logic play in this?
Do you, or could you flex your leadership style? What would be the impact?
Thank you to Liz Mercer of Perla Development, and to Nicki and Tim Hedin (my learning buddies from Barefoot Coaching’s Cohort 57) , for helping me to reflect on the concept of authenticity and its link to leadership and coaching.
Goleman, D. (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, March-April,
Frei, F. and Morriss, A. (2020) Begin with trust. The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader. Harvard Business Review, May-June, pp. 112-121
About the author
Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.
Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis. She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.
Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.
Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.