Does an Authentic Leader need to act the part?

Posted by Sheila in Authentic Leaders, Uncategorised on 29th October 2012 | be the first to Comment »
I’d been coaching a client, I’ll call him John, for several months.  John was a Leader running a large department in a not-for-profit organisation. His main coaching goal was to build better relationships with his peer management team in order to ensure that more of his ideas were taken up by the organisation.  While he had strong relationships with his direct reports and a high performing department, his peer relationships were tense and consequently less productive.  We had been working on this for a while. One day at the end of a particularly intense session, John raged in frustration.   The ensuing exchange, which went roughly as follows, was light hearted but food for thought:
John:   This is too hard…why don’t you just give me the arts to pretend to get along with
my colleagues.
Me: (stung… caught in the moment and  unable to respond with an illuminating question)
I can’t just give you the arts to pretend to do something you don’t believe in -and anyway even if I could –  I don’t want to.
John:   But you have to – it’s your job, you’re my coach …so WHY NOT!
Me: Because, it’s not authentic and your colleagues would see straight through the pretence no matter how artful
John Hrummmmmph.
Me Humm…
This exchange raises a number of questions. I held John’s difference and challenge to his peers to be both desirable and positive for both him and the organisation but was I unconsciously echoing what Goffman (1959) describes as ‘ a belief that we tend to see real performance as something not purposefully put together at all – being an unintentional product of the individual’s unselfconscious response to the facts in his situation?’ I saw John as authentic believing that training him ‘to perform’  in a way contrary to his natural style would damage his ‘realness’ and possibly his credibility with his peers.   However, taking this view to an extreme, what happens when a leader doesn’t manage his or her performance,  and  speaks  or behaves exactly as he or she thinks or feels at any given  moment?  This person may be perceived as real, but are they an appropriate or credible leader?   What are the implications for the organisation and what is the role of the coach and communication specialist here?
Three years later,  following in-depth conversations with Leaders and Coaches, I’ve started to come up with some answers to this and other questions around Leader authenticity and I look forward to sharing my findings at the Institute of Internal Communication’s Insight Forum Trusted to Lead at the Radisson Blu Edwardian on 21 November.  ( to book Email

Is there a danger in relying on social media for internal communication?

Posted by Domna in Uncategorised on 24th June 2011 | be the first to Comment »

Social media, many communicators argue, are the future of organisational communication. They are democratic and pluralistic, not top down and dominated by ‘management speak’. They connect people with common interests, build communities and enhance dialogue across borders, real and virtual.

But listening to Eli Paliser talk about what he calls “the danger of the internet filter bubble”, I could not help but question whether we’ve got it right. Paliser’s case – eloquently made in his recent book, TED talk and various interviews, including a couple on the BBC this week – is that instead of empowering us to access information and connecting us to others, the intranet is increasingly limiting our access to people and information and distorting our view of the world.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and search engines like Google are at the forefront of this, he claims, through their use of sophisticated algorithms which track our use of the web and decide on past history how to filter information and connections for us. The result is that even when we think we are in control of what or who we are searching for, it is the sites that actually decide on our behalf.

Communicators can argue that this is no more than good old fashioned audience
segmentation: you get to know what your audience likes and give them more of the same. What’s wrong with that? Paliser’s argument is that, if all we ever get when we search for information or people to connect with is what we tend to like and none of what we find different, dangerous, outrageous, or surprising then real dialogue between individuals and groups is compromised. What you end up having instead is groups of individuals living in parallel bubbles, separate universes, increasingly reinforced and sustained by internet algorithms.

Paliser illustrates this point by showing the results of a search for ‘Egypt’ he asked several of his friends to conduct simultaneously. The returns were significantly different (tailored to his friends’ preferences and past history) and at least one of his friends did not get any information about the recent uprisings despite the topical nature of that information!

If, as Paliser argues, social media and the internet are limiting our access to information and true dialogue rather than enhancing it, what are the implications for introducing social media inside organisations? Is there a danger that instead of introducing real dialogue we end up with strengthening silos? Instead of enabling the creativity that comes from sharing different viewpoints we reinforce group think? Instead of shaping a pluralistic enabling culture we drive the fragmentation of culture?

While I am not convinced that this is necessarily the case, I believe that we must consider the possibility that social media could present a danger as much as an opportunity for the future of internal communication. How practitioners deal with this tension is going to be pivotal to real communication improvements in the workplace of the future.

Communicators and management jargon: why ‘buzzwords’ must not die

Posted by Domna in Uncategorised on 8th March 2011 | be the first to Comment »

Communication professionals should advise managers about language and communication; they should coach leaders in how to express themselves with clarity, how to adjust their style to their audience, how to use language and other codes to create an environment of trust and to engage employees behind common purpose. They should also tell managers where they get it wrong, for example where they use inappropriate or clichéd language, where they fail to listen or engage with their employees and where they confuse communication with transmission. But is it ever the job of communicators to ‘eradicate’ aspects of management language they don’t like?

The evangelical zeal with which hundreds of communication professionals contributed to an online thread titled ‘these buzzwords must die’, must worry us just a little. The thread which claimed to want to eradicate business jargon, passed sentence on several everyday business words and phrases – ‘synergy’, ‘strategic’, ‘leverage’, ‘localize’, ‘out of the box’, ‘going forward’ and ‘in my honest opinion’, were some of the outcasts.

There is no doubt that much formal management communication is full of clichés. But it is also the case that words and phrases in the management vocabulary, in any vocabulary, exist for a good reason – if they were not useful they would not be there. How can you ban the concept of ‘strategic’ in a business setting? Why is it such a bad thing to talk about ‘synergies’ or ‘localisation’ where these concepts reflect precisely what you are trying to express? And why would you want to restrict the use of very good metaphors such as ‘out of the box?’ It may be overused, but where it is used correctly, it does a different job to ‘new’ or ‘original’ or ‘innovative’ or ‘different’. In short, how is restricting the richness of language an answer to better communication in the workplace?

Of course communicators are right that many of the words and phrases they demonise are both overused and abused by managers and this inevitably influences how clear and how trustworthy managers are perceived to be. The answer to that should never be to ban anything, however, but rather to educate managers about their language use and its impact. To do this, communicators themselves have to understand how language really functions and how it interacts with culture and context to create meaning.

When communication professionals argue that words should be banned because they are overused or ‘do not mean anything’ they are wrong. When they argue that language should be stripped of anything that is unnecessary and redundant, they are wrong. Language is NOT simply a vehicle for data transmission. It is a means by which we build relationships, establish rapport, negotiate meaning, co-construct culture and shape and reshape our identities. To do this we use all language – the common and the rare, the simple and the complex, the creative and the banal. And we need it all. At the right time in the right context, with the right audience, for the right purpose; but we need it all. Nothing should be ‘eradicated’. Perhaps instead of looking to cast dreaded ‘buzzwords’ into oblivion, communicators should dare to rediscover the uniqueness and usefulness of some of the language they find so intolerable – particularly the rich metaphors that surround us and allow us to express so many things in such economical ways – ‘boil the ocean’ anyone?