Being Genuine Requires Honesty – To Yourself
During recent years, leadership has been through a revision: instead of just copying the archetype (or rather stereotype) of a strong leader, any leader is now expected to find and show empathy and even compassion for their sub-ordinates and to give room for individuality.
The leader is also expected to have a vision and showing the way, making followers out of the sub-ordinates. In fact, now leadership is no longer about organizational position – it is about having some sort of inspirational power to make others do what the leader wants.
But that has made the leadership role a lot more complex. It now requires insight and wisdom, not just knowledge of the trade. To help leaders out, to help them find a way through this jungle, there is an abundance of leadership philosophies and ideas on what people are, how they are, and how to treat people who are of a certain kind. Followers alike are to be measured and categorized, as individuality is changing into “difference” – instead of having 7 billion individuals many of these ideas claim that there are, for instance, four different categories of people. Hurrah! Then we just reduced the complexity of dealing with them!
Or did we? By beginning to look at people as individuals, we were almost beginning to treat them like human beings – observing individual behaviour as we would do with anyone around us, not just sub-ordinates. They were almost becoming members of our circles rather than means of production. Now they consist of only a main structure, no details.
When categorizing people at the workplace, we again start treating them as things – as machines. This machine with this behaviour is known to be treated this way, that one that way and so on. For each category: one treatment, one procedure of leadership. All just because it is easier. Unfortunately, many leaders then start to believe that there really are only those four kinds of employees – if one is leaving, we must find one of the same type as a replacement. As a spare part for the organization.
All is done at a distance: the leader is looking at a test result from some more or less scientific measurement approach (typically camouflaged through a questionnaire and a diagram, making the result appear in a mysterious way from simple “most me” and “less me” questions), and immediately the wise leader can tell what type of person they are dealing with. Or maybe it is done in a less scientific way by letting that same wise leader just judging on the basis of their experience or what they learned from a course. The leader is the outside observer, not being part of the equation – and the leader must be able to deal in different ways with different types of followers. Of course, it is expected that the leader is not bound to being a type – leaders are supposed to be made of some kind of magical material that makes them hover one level above the common people, looking down on them and seeing everything, knowing everything and being able to interact in every way needed. And all leaders are the same, all slices of the same salami.
A new trend might be emerging, after the hovering salami trend: the leader is now to be looking at the leader themselves. Now they must understand also which category they themselves belongs to, as this will influence the way they can interact with the other categories of people.
Of course, deciding a category cannot be done by the leader themselves – that would not be a scientific approach – so some kind of group activity is needed. Either with the leader’s “team” (it looks then like if the leader is almost one of them) or with other leaders (after all, leaders understand leaders best).
Being a type themselves makes life even more simple for the leader. A machine will then be leading other machines – how clean and nice this model is! No human imperfectness, no variety in behaviour. And if someone – leader or follower – doesn’t behave as their type says that they should, it is easy to tell them that they do not fit in and then fire them. Like you would throw out a broken machine. And for the leader, this leader-type idea is great for the career: they can easily plug into a new leadership role somewhere else, doing exactly the same and getting exactly the same results.
Much have been said about being genuine as a leader. That the leader must be walking as they are talking. That they must show a good example. That they must know themselves. Understand and control their own feelings. Do the same with others’ feelings. That they must be perfect leadership machines.
I would claim that this kind of perfectness is an illusion, at best. That it is more likely a very harmful betrayal. That even a leader is also a human being. And that all human beings are sub-ordinates to their own human behaviour and to the social environment around them.
All people show socially based characteristics – often seen and felt more by others than themselves. They mimic their surroundings. Laugh, when others laugh. Look serious when others do so. And they learn a set of such behaviour from their surroundings, thereby becoming part of a culture, carrying old learning with them into new environments, still learning from the new ones and then becoming a mix of different cultures. People can have very similar lives and yet they do not learn the same. They do not become identical.
Being a type under such conditions seems very unlikely. It is more a matter of definition, like an apple being small, medium or large, even though every possible size from a certain minimum to a certain maximum can be found. We just put them in three different boxes, but that doesn’t mean that they inherently are, for instance, medium-sized apples. It is just a definition, made by people. And lots of other characteristics of these apples are not even considered: maybe one is perfectly round, while another is a bit of another shape. Maybe one has 30% red surface, another 35%. And the exact red tone may vary too.
Human beings and human minds have many facets, of which a very few are being looked at by the typification-ideas. And even those facets looked at are not really the same for all who are categorized the same. They just look this way because we see them from a distance, hovering one level above them.
I hope that you are not fooling yourself into believing that there are four types of people, that you are yourself such a type, and that interactions between people can be calculated on the basis of these types.
If you, being a leader, is really going to understand who you are and who the people you lead might be, so that you can start behaving like a human being amongst other human beings, you should better start being honest – to yourself – and then try to accept that being genuine is to be a wide selection of behaviours, of which you may be able to control some but not all.