Like all the best advice, the advice I’m about to pass on to you did not originate with me. Indeed, I got it from someone else.
The man’s name was Frank Carus. He was the vice president and F-35 program manager at Northrop Grumman. I loved Frank’s demeanor and leadership style; he inspired me to soak up everything that I could from him.
One day, I asked Frank what it took to be a leader.
His advice went as follows: “Be Daniel. Don’t be Frank. And just be authentic.”
This hit me deep. It actually took me a moment to process, which is ironic when you consider that I was simply being told to be myself.
How often does society allow you to be yourself? Isn’t it so validating to have somebody actually give you permission to do you, the way only you can do?
From then on, authenticity was a big theme for me. I had no inkling of emulating Frank; I was more on a search to locate Daniel. Fortunately, I’ve got Frank along for the ride as an angel on my shoulder, whispering various facets of his advisement into my ear:
Everybody else is taken.
It’s a cute slogan, but it also happens to be true. Can you imagine how many lives are wasted by people who are simply imitating others? All the while, their own selves were right there, just waiting to be used, but they got kept on the shelf for fear of embarrassment, failure or who knows what else.
Now the question remains: How do you be yourself? For me, I like to lead with my intuition. If something feels right, emotionally or energetically, then you know it’s in alignment with your principles. If something feels wrong, then it’s not for you. Naturally, not all of us can feel good all the time, but we should work on avoiding situations where we feel bad. If you go in for an interview at your dream job and something just feels off, trust the instinct. Maybe the place works for you in theory, but doesn’t seem like a match in reality. The more you steer yourself toward what ignites you and away from what deflates you, the more your true self will emerge in the process.
Create Your Own Leadership Style
Now, when it comes to leadership, the process doesn’t begin and end with “you being you.” It also thrives on the judgment and focus you bring to it, which are of course, organically yours. Remember that nature produced you with specific traits, strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. Use them!
This takes trial and error. Every person on the planet is different. Some folks get others to follow orders by raising their voices; others achieve the same result by keeping their voices at a whisper.
The key here is feedback. Watch how people respond to you. What gets them moving? What keeps them standing still? Are they emanating respect or hostility toward you? As you experiment with leadership and place your chips on what practices result in the best possible team and organization, you come to find out the nuances of your own leadership style.
Be Humble And Noble
Leadership isn’t about an ego trip. It doesn’t exist to make leaders feel good. Quite the contrary, it’s often challenging. Reason being, a leader’s real job is to push forward a cause. That means getting things done. It also means liberating the talent of those around you. If you’re busy being arrogant, your focus will not be where it belongs, which is on the task at hand.
How do you stay humble? For one thing, always share credit for your achievements, for in strict truth, you never will accomplish anything all alone. In addition, always remember your down days as much as your up ones. In other words, don’t get cocky when you hit a hot streak, because it won’t last forever. And try to stay hungry throughout your career. Be open to new knowledge, new relationships, new settings, new technology, and new experiences. Staying in your safe zone might make you arrogant; nobody gets very arrogant when they don’t feel very safe.
Build Healthy Relationships
No matter what business you’re in, you can bet that, at some level, it’s a relationship business. Human beings don’t get anything done alone; we work best when we’re together. So as you lead and succeed, be a positive force to those around you. Help them. Nurture them. Bring out the best in them. Let them bring out the best in you. And if no such things are occurring, then you’re probably better off avoiding them.
Don’t Forget Where You’re From
This goes hand-in-hand with being your most authentic self. You came from somewhere. Not just a town, city, and/or country, but a family. A culture. Perhaps a faith. Most certainly, you came from some form of tradition. Don’t erase these things from your past, or even mildly forget them, for they contain the seeds and roots that grew into you. Draw on them. Draw inspiration and courage from them. Know that whoever you are, you’re carrying the torch of those who came before you.
One handy way of keeping this reminder nearby is keeping a photo from your childhood on your desk. Another good way is to call the friends you grew up with periodically, keeping tabs on them and hearing their familiar accents and rhythms. Believe me, this is worth way more than mere nostalgia; it’s a way of getting your own core values aligned with your soul.
Leadership excites me like few other topics. Always has, and probably always will. But you can imagine how excited I became when Mr. Carus taught me that I, alone, was my own best resource when it came to learning how to lead.