October 14th, 2021
The Real Deal
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy—both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott, The Office
Fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company leader, Michael Scott, spent a lot of time accidentally swerving into profound truths. He was so wrong that he was almost right, in some cases. And even though he was a huge, un-self-aware train wreck, his fictional co-workers (and real-life Office fans) loved him because he was completely genuine—authentic, vulnerable and transparent. And while I believe those are the qualities that people want to see most in their leaders, it can be a real challenge to live those values out.
Leaders often feel pressure to be the rock in an organization, always appearing to be in control, unfazed and steady. Even if we’re not feeling it, the need to act like everything’s okay in order to instill confidence in our teams usually wins out over showing vulnerability. And while I don’t disagree entirely with that approach, I believe it robs us of one of the most essential and fulfilling aspects of effective leadership: meaningful relationships.
A good relationship requires authenticity, and authenticity requires vulnerability. You can’t keep people at arm’s length and expect to earn their trust. People can smell phony a mile away, and just as authenticity is magnetic, nothing repels people faster than fake.
My father and grandfather were both entrepreneurs. I grew up working with them and learning from them, and when I started my own business, I knew some things, but not nearly as much as I thought I did. I was amazed at how often I felt like I was flying blind, then and even now. And when I’m in those situations, I am always quick to confess. I tell my team, “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.” I don’t hesitate to ask for help, and I try not to hide what I’m going through. Together we’ve come up with some fantastic solutions and crazy ideas that “just might work.” Some did, and some didn’t. But they were all wins because every moment of vulnerability has led to more buy-in and stronger bonds with my team.
Of course, there’s a balance, and the Michael Scott level of transparency is not recommended! But take a minute to evaluate how open you really are with your teams. I’m talking about your core group of key people and employees you interact with regularly. Do they know you? And would you say they fear you or love you? Or both?
If they only fear you, it’s probably because they don’t know you. They may lack the confidence to approach you and share ideas because you’ve never opened up and given them the green light to do so. And that’s a lose-lose situation because they’re missing out on untold opportunities, and you’re abdicating your most important leadership responsibility: empowering others.
I’ll leave you with another slightly profound accidental truth from the lips of Michael Scott: “Make friends first, make sales second, make love third. In no particular order.”
You get the picture. Be a genuine, authentic, honest, humble and open leader. Your people are what matter above all else, and they need to see the real deal (and the real you).