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Every Move You Make…They’ll Be Watching You

By Simon Mitchell

Simon Mitchell“With great power comes great responsibility.” We all know the quote, even if we’re a little less sure of its origins: It’s been attributed to everyone from Stan Lee to Voltaire (and quite a few others in between). But like the best of aphorisms, its sentiment is something we can all agree on.

When I think about responsibility, another word also springs to my mind: scrutiny.

Performance under the microscopeSenior leaders, whether in political or corporate spheres, have always been in the spotlight and held accountable for their actions and decisions. Rightly so, but with the widespread rise of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, this has gone stratospheric. Thanks to the egalitarianism of the Internet, anyone can have their say and anything can go viral, and this can leave leaders facing criticism on many new fronts and topics.

The result is that rather than just the cool, professional, and level-headed judgment of their peers and journalists, leaders today face a wider, more glaring public spotlight. And this is something they may well be uncomfortable with, as it focuses not just on performance and results, but personality and behavior too. Not everyone has the natural bravado (and probably thick skin) of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, and when a company's financial performance is less than shining, the ensuing comments online can be personal, hurtful, and highly emotive.

Yet leaders, like everyone else—and no matter how well rewarded—are still people. People who are capable of the same mistakes, missteps, and awkward moments as the rest of us. And of course, just as lacking in the kind of 20/20 vision hindsight offers. None of us are perfect, but few of us are judged so thoroughly.

The lesson here is that leaders need to be authentic and empathetic. In short, this means displaying their human side, however uncomfortable this may feel, because a “real” person is someone people want to work with. People will have far greater respect for those they can relate to as humans, and they can tell if the way a leader acts is out of line with their true personality. Authenticity is not something that can be faked, and leaders should be true to themselves in every interaction with their teams. The important jump to displaying thoughts and feelings, as well as rationale, in decision making and team interaction is a hard-learned skill but one of the most important in personal leadership.

If leaders are authentic, when things go wrong (as they often might in a world where volatility and uncertainty are never far away) people are less likely to be unfairly critical.

Knowing where to draw the line is, of course, a delicate matter. But take Richard Branson at Virgin, or Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. These are exciting and interesting people doing exciting and interesting things. They are also not short of people who want to work with them or for them.

So I’m not sure if it’s a plea or a rallying cry; but we would urge people not to check their personalities at the door, nor let the fear of extra scrutiny stop them from moving into more senior roles. Character makes not just a better leader, but also a more rounded person who can build understanding and connections. It’s just common sense. And while HR should never seek to eradicate what makes people special, it has an incredibly valuable role to play in going beyond this and obtaining robust, objective data on a leader’s skills and experience.

(And of course, there can be such a thing as too much personality.)

Simon Mitchell is DDI's United Kingdom General Manager, European and Multinational Segment Marketing Director.

Posted: 08 Oct, 2014,
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