Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Competence is overrated.  IQ is overrated.  Being real is more powerful than competence and IQ.  Your IQ and competence might be stellar, but they can be easily wasted if you are not as human and approachable as you are smart and hard working.  I want to discourage your overindulgence in impression management, because real leadership is about developing yourself in a manner that helps others see the complete you:  the strengths and the imperfections, the accomplishments and the continued striving.  Only when they see you as human and real will they be open to you as a genuine leader, and not merely a person occupying a position above them.  “Show your ink” (yes, a reference to my tattoos) is a catch phrase I’ve used for some time with readers and audiences as a reminder to be the most authentic version of yourself possible.  It’s also the title of my next book, a book that makes the case that people like real, and you have to be real in order to be heard.

Today, our understanding of leadership is undergoing a massive transformation.  Achieving strong results has and always will be part of the definition of great leadership.  However, the interpersonal approach to leading is shifting rapidly.  Years ago a leader would dictate and project strength, competence, and confidence.  That’s all that was needed.  Today, the most effective leaders create a dialogue and move past the projection of positive traits to also include indicators of their humanity.  The old model of leadership relied much more heavily on power and authority.  Today, we know that great leadership is all about partnering, and while some impression management is still necessary, the goal is to be a little more real, unfiltered, personal, and authentic!

Many practitioners have been scared by the rise of this new paradigm.  They believe that to be authentic and to discuss errors, learning moments, lessons learned, or other indicators of imperfection is the same as voluntarily projecting weakness.  They feel that to be “professional” is to be impersonal.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  The competent and human leader always has the most dedicated followers.  It is the leader unwilling to be real, unwilling to be human once in awhile, unwilling to self-deprecate occasionally who is truly weak.

Here’s a funny reality – people earn degrees, take classes, and read books all designed to teach them how to lead successfully.  You faithfully follow the rules and tactics the experts suggest.  Nothing happens.  Why?  It’s not because of the tactics, it’s because you are not believable.  You are a supervisor, but not a person.  You are the boss, but not a human.  Somehow we’ve all adopted a belief that to be professional is to be impersonal, hands-off, distant, and unemotional.  The opposite is needed.  You need to be seen as real.

So there you have it.  The key to great leadership is not a mystery.  It is not complex.  It is not expensive.  In fact, it’s free.  If you want them to listen to you, to feel passion, to care, and to strive, stop relying on fear and stop relying too heavily on external devices such as money.  Instead, take the risk and let down your guard so they can see the real you.  Show your ink:  you have to be real to be heard.

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