Millennials place high value on authenticity and transparency in the workplace. They want to be able to be themselves at work, and they want their leaders to do the same.
But authentic leadership is rare in American society now, according to John Addison, CEO of Addison Leadership Group and author of “Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose.”
He defines real leadership as a leader who is more concerned with the organization than themselves. Their leadership revolves around authenticity and responsibility. “When you’re a leader, there needs to be a consistency and constancy to you,” he said. “People know who you are and what makes you tick. You’re not a cipher they’re always trying to figure out.”
Addison has developed a list of nine principals that he said will facilitate leadership success.
1. Decide who you are.
2. Shine your light on others.
3. Build on your strengths.
4. Earn your position.
5. Focus on what you can control.
6. Develop a peaceful core.
7. Be a lighthouse.
8. Don’t burn bridges.
9. Make your parents proud.
For chief learning officers in charge of developing organizational talent, one principle is especially important, especially for high-potential employees: build on your strengths. Everyone is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. So, learning programs should not be cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all things.
Employees who are vocal and high-energy or quiet and brilliant can both be effective leaders, but they need to be treated and trained differently. Further, just as this principle applies to the talent chief learning officers develop, it also applies to CLOs themselves, as well as any other high-level leadership positions.
For example, Addison, who has attention deficit disorder, once took classes on organization and time management to improve on his weaknesses in those areas. Eventually he realized he didn’t take anything from those courses; his strengths lay in being high-energy and outgoing. So he worked on his strengths and surrounded himself with people who were good at what he was not.
“If you spend time working on your strengths, you get the chance to be great. The best you can be with your weaknesses is mediocre,” he said. “Find out what you’re good at without trying, and then try.”
Developing a peaceful core is another principle which Addison said is valuable to a leader. Simply put, having a peaceful core means not letting stressful or volatile situations cloud your judgment or make you afraid of failure. This principle stems from Winston Churchill’s wisdom: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Addison, again using himself as an example, said when his company was taken over in the 1980s, a lot of employees didn’t speak up when the new management made mistakes for fear of losing their jobs. But he decided it would be best to give honest feedback in a respectful way. Within four years, he was president of the company. “At a volatile time in the company, because of how I approached things I was able to make a quantum leap in my career.”
He said true leadership is not all that common in this country; the U.S. has become a finger-pointing society. Although there are definitely true leaders out there, it’s difficult to find them because they don’t promote or go on television. They’re the nameless, faceless people behind organizations whose business is growing and whose people are getting better. They’re the quiet people focusing on results and not making a big deal about themselves.
For example, Addison mentioned Nick Saban, head coach of University of Alabama’s football team, as a noncorporate example. The school won its fourth national championship in seven years, but Addison said when you hear Saban talk, he’s a little boring, speaking about the mundane parts of the team-building process.
There are results, and then there’s talk. When it comes to defining a successful leader, Addison said the former is far more important than the latter.