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"If I Only Had Courage" - Authenticity and Business Politics

How to stay 'real' and not sacrifice your job.
Written Mar 06, 2009, read 724 times since then.


A manager at a major corporation said to me, “The biggest leadership gap at my company is courage - the willingness to be honest when things aren’t right - rather than the endless cheerleading squad.”  An image of the cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, immediately popped into my head.  I wish I had the Wizard’s magic  Courage Potion so that manager could spike their drinks!  But I don’t.  And in actuality the Wizard solved the Lion’s courage problem with a little double talk (suggesting that, in fact, the Lion had courage all along); being scared was simply being authentic, and fear didn’t discount the fact that he was performing truly brave deeds. 

So here’s my magic potion recipe to be “the Courageous & Authentic Lion” within a fearful political workplace. 

First, remember what being authentic means:

•    Not false or copied: genuine and original, not cookie cutter
•    Trustworthy: shown to be true.  Undisputed credibility

Next, how do you get there? 

Know how to listen and be listened to, and how to question and invite questions in a way that invites collaboration.

Ingredient #1: Listen
Do you really understand their point of view?  The principals of being authentic in the workplace tie in really well with having authentic relationships in your private life.   John M. Gottman, Ph.D. is one of the country’s foremost relationship experts.  He says, “People rarely ask questions.  When people ask me questions, it’s an invitation.  And a statement is like ‘take that’.  None of this can be phony – it’s got to come out of your personality, be real and natural.  Only ask questions you want to know the answer to.”   (From the Gottman Institute’s “Marriage and the Family” workshop)

Try asking,

•    What do you want? Ask them about their goals & challenges.
•    How could you get there?
•    What is it about this that motivates you?
•    What do you bring to this situation i.e. strengths and capabilities?

Ingredient #2: Question, and keep it on a ‘two-way street’
Do your colleagues feel respected, understood, or that you’re interested in them?  How can you have an authentic conversation about your needs or concerns if they don’t see you as an ally?  Don’t waste their time.  Don’t waste yours.  Being authentic in business is about connecting, sharing, learning and helping.  It’s a two-way street.

•    If you think of a resource that might help them, offer it
•    Build a habit of mind that scans for things to admire in partners and colleagues - express it in words and actions.  And look for common ground - common values and goals for all of you.
•    Talk without contempt
•    Accept responsibility for any negative role you played in problem situations
•    And when it's time to compromise, where are you both flexible?

Ingredient #3: Speak Their Language
If you’re going to fall into a political mud-hole, are there ways to convey your message that the decision makers will connect with?

•    Start with an “I” statement.  “I feel upset.  I feel anxious.  I feel frustrated.” vs. “It’s all your fault that I feel lousy.”
•    Describe what’s happening without evaluative judgment
•    Ask them to describe their “reality” of the situation
•    Clearly state what you need
•    Offer potential solutions and ask for suggestions

Mix well, and use regularly to live a more authentic life!

Learn more about the author, Nicey Hilton.

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Article tags

  • negotiation
  • politics
  • professional development
  • conflict resolution
  • networking
  • leadership
  • management
  • connecting
  • business plans
  • authenticity

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