4 Ways to Lead with Authenticity in Uncertain Times


There is something that all great leaders do.

There is something that all great leaders do that we can all learn from. Many of the best leaders (in business, community, politics and entertainment) study leadership traits like presentation skills, body language, persuasion with a depth and rigor that few of us do. There are countless bestselling business books and TED Talks that tackle these subjects. Professionals will spend thousands of dollars each year to attend conferences, where these specific topics are covered. From overall strategies to very specific tactics, those who know how to present an idea - in a powerful way - tend to get ahead. Personally, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to grow my business from a small startup in 2000 to being acquired by WPP (the world’s largest marketing and communications network in the world) to turning that business into a now-global brand called Mirum. With over 2000 employees in over 20 countries and under the WPP banner, I still get to travel the world and present on stages like The Art Of… to businesses (small, medium, large, b2b and b2c). In short: I get to watch some of the world’s best brands and leaders present their ideas. I also get to sit in the audience and take notes. I get to see which ideas take flight... and which ideas flop. Which leaders can convey a semi-decent idea that gets mass buy-in, versus a leader who can’t get their team around a very powerful and transformative concept. Yes, it’s about communications and presence. Still, there are four key components that make ideas connect, and we have seen this in everything from a new business pitch to an investor, to a global brand looking to shift business models, to a politician attempting to take office and beyond.

Here are the four ways to lead with authenticity in uncertain times:

1. I See You
Your audience has to know that you are not talking at them. Your audience has to know that you are not talking to them. Your audience must feel like you are talking with them. Every audience member has to not only feel - but know - that you see them. You know them. You understand their day-to-day, and that you’re not there to float your own ideas, but rather create a solution to what they (truly) face - day in and day out. Without judgement. “I see you.” When someone is in trouble (emotional, physical or spiritual), they want you to see them... not feel bad for them. This is my number one motivation before clipping a microphone on my shirt. I want my audience to know this: I see you.

2. I Understand You
This does not mean that you have to listen to their feedback or ask for input. This does mean that you understand their challenges, because you have seen them, experienced them and are not just compassionate about those challenges, but that you have thought long and hard about what it means to be them. A lot of leaders think that they understand the situation, when - in reality - they have a thought about how to solve the challenge - at a leadership level - without understanding how it truly affects each and every person on the team and in the work that they do.

3. This Is Now Yours/Ours
Think about the businesses that offer employees ownership opportunities. Think about the businesses that constantly attempt to cut out the layers of management and rules/regulations to allow people to flourish. These are bold and powerful first-steps. Now, think about the leaders that remove themselves from the pedestal and truly empower everyone to take part in the success (and, let’s be clear: financial success is only part of this equation). Think about the leaders who truly build a team... a movement. Great leaders don’t build great companies or great teams. Great leaders turn everything into a movement that everyone takes ownership and responsibility for. Great leaders make it everyone’s for the taking.

4. You Are Not Forgotten...and  Never Will Be Again.
We are all worried about the effort that we put into our own lives. Are we doing enough? How are we performing? We are all worried how we are perceived by our peers and by our leaders. All of us have our own set of insecurities. All of us have moments where we feel like we’re not a part of something meaningful or bigger than us. Along with “I See You,” many people do feel forgotten (either a lot of the time or at some moment in time). From not getting that promotion, to being let go and beyond. The best leaders remind their audience that they are not forgotten, and that they won’t be forgotten moving forward. It’s powerful. It doesn’t always come to fruition, but if you can make your audience acknowledge the moments when they have felt forgotten, and honestly reassure them that this is going to end, you can - and will - win them over. It can’t be a platitude. It has to be something that they live and breathe.

These are ambiguous tools, so do no evil.

All tools of presentation, persuasion, influence, leadership and beyond can be (and have been) used for evil. These same tools have been used to make partisan groups more divided than united. The tools are ambiguous. Before presenting ideas (on stage, in a board room, over a meal), the 4 concepts above are meant for the leader to equalize his thinking in terms of the relationship between presenter and audience. Great leadership moving forward feels inclusive. Brand, innovation, transformation, dealing with disruption, building better experiences... this is what we do. This is what great leaders must do.

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