From Authoritarian to Authentic Leader 

Filed Under: January 2020 Issue, Last Word
When I think about authoritarian leadership, I think back to my first job. My boss was a classic authoritarian, throwing out commands, and driving everyone to do their best. Often times insulting people with the hope of getting them to perform. Many left on their first day.
Authoritarian leadership isn’t all together problematic. We know that when issues become urgent using direct, hierarchical commands gets the job done the best. It becomes a problem when the leadership can’t vary their approach to meet the situation. It’s like using a hammer to paint the walls.
Many business leaders are struggling with connecting to the younger generation. It’s as if we’re speaking two different languages, while each party is expecting to be understood. Once bruises happen it can be difficult to make the hurdle into a safe, respectful environment. As leaders, we need to be the ones with the solution. I’ll share a five ways to jump the hurdle.
1. Show those in your charge who you are, and how you came to be this way. Marshall Goldsmith suggests writing a letter to those closest to you at work to help them understand how you operate. Imagine working for someone who says, “Listen, I like to punish the messenger, so be careful when you’re bringing me bad news. I’ll probably bite your head off, even though I know it’s not your fault.” You’d be much more equipped, and less likely to walk away hurt or deflated if this happens.
2. Invite in the thinking of others, no matter their rank, their age, or any other thing that may make them ‘different’ in your eyes. We tend to gravitate toward those who are like us, we all do it, but it creates homogeneous thinking. You wouldn’t want 5 Michael Jordans on a team; you need guys on the front-line, and quick players to get the shooting guard the ball. Every team needs multi-dimensional thinking to keep up a competitive game.
3. Don’t assume that others want to be treated the way you do. I see this as one of the greatest errors leaders and managers make. We expect others should work like we do, and that they want to be treated like we do. The truth is that the only way to know someone’s hidden drives is to uncover them, not to assume you know.
4. Become a better coach. Every time you know the answer, or want to help someone solve their problem, stop yourself and instead ask them questions. We typically swoop in and say, “Did you go to John about that? Enroll him on this.” Rather than, “Who do you think would be great to enroll on this project?” You’ll get the same outcome, but this way you’re giving them the opportunity to step into their own leadership. Empowering our people is the core of leadership.
5. How self-aware are you? Build your chops here and learn where your blind spots are. It’s okay, we all have ‘em. I have my clients begin by becoming observant of the feeling they leave others with. You can outright ask those around you how self-aware you are. And there are always coaches and resources to learn how to become more self-observant.
If you want your team to work better together – change starts with you. The team takes your direction through actions aligned with words. By owning your path of leadership you teach others who you are, and help them see the path to discovering the limitless potential of their own leadership.
Kindness wins.
Megan Marini is a talent optimization specialist and a subject matter expert in leadership and communication. She can be reached at

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