The following is adapted from Naked at Work: A Leader’s Guide to Fearless Authenticity by senior AIIR executive coach Danessa Knaupp.
Have you kept your opinions to yourself in the boardroom? Are you hesitant to share big ideas with your teams for fear they won’t support you? Do you shy away from risks, even if they offer the potential for big rewards?
If so, now is the time to move through what’s in your way and begin to lead fearlessly forward.
The path to fearless leadership isn’t straight or narrow, but there are a set of tried-and-true steps that can move you in the right direction. This proven six-step transformation, which I’ll describe in this article, is the same process I use in my elite executive coaching practice. It will enable you to tap into your courage, remove your interference, and power your performance and that of your organization.
Many executives, whether they know it or not, waste an enormous amount of time managing or preventing shame. It swallows resources and holds you back because when you aim to reduce risk and avoid failure, it blocks maximizing success or pursuing innovation.
If you don’t address any shame you might have, like feelings of unworthiness or regret about past mistakes, it can be incredibly hard to eliminate from your thoughts. Shame’s fixed mindset ties our shortcomings to our identity, making them both more painful and more permanent. It whispers about what we are or aren’t and doesn’t leave room for what we might become.
You may already be thinking the costs of shame are individual and private. No one knows how you feel, and it doesn’t spill over to others. That’s not true. Leaders who carry shame or work to prevent future shame can have a powerfully negative effect on teams. To lead fearlessly, you need to stop wasting time on shame. It doesn’t serve you. Get over it.
Take a good, hard look at where you are in life and your career. You need to see accurately where you are and work out how to get from there to where you want to be. In other words, if you don’t know where you currently stand on the map, you won’t know which direction to go to reach your destination.
Leaders can lose sight of where they and their teams are, deliberately or by accident, especially if you often feel overwhelmed or distracted. What is your team’s performance like right now? What needs to change to hit your goals? How can you move your team in the right direction?
Answering these questions and understanding your current unique position is a better use of your time than focusing on where you think you should be. You need to take time to determine your starting point, otherwise you’ll be moving aimlessly. Once you’ve eliminated unknowns in your situation, you can move forward with less fear.
If you’re telling yourself stories that don’t serve you, it’s time to reframe or trash them. What stories am I talking about?
These are the stories we tell about ourselves, the whispers in our head, the assessments we make about our abilities, qualities, and histories. For example, if you’ve told yourself your whole career that you’re unworthy of advancement because you don’t have a college degree, reframe it. Instead of focusing on the negatives, think about how valuable your experience is and how it gives you a unique perspective compared to your college-educated peers.
Reframing is an active habit that requires you to look carefully at the story you’re telling. You must understand how a story both serves and limits you, and explore ways to look at data differently. By reframing old stories, you can find new confidence and strength that will help you lead fearlessly.
Similar to rewriting your stories, this step involves examining your failures for lessons and opportunities to grow. Instead of seeing failure as strictly a negative experience, mine it for the positives it offers.
Failure is feedback. Often painful, but feedback nonetheless. When we separate failure from negative emotion and shame, the information it offers is compelling. It presents us with unique gifts that, while available elsewhere, aren’t quite as rich and as clear as when you’re face down on the field or speechless in the spotlight.
These are the secret upsides of failure: reflection, iteration and innovation, grit, and community. It has a lot to offer, and by reframing failure, you redefine it as an opportunity to learn, separate from shame. Facing your failures is the best way to develop grit, which is the key ingredient for gravitas, the strongest driver of executive presence.
Simply put, fearless leaders are people who have faced their failures and learned from them.
Being naked at work is a metaphor, of course. Please keep your clothes on.
Getting naked at work means dropping anything and everything you’re doing for the sake of managing impressions, shame, pretense, and anything else that is not related to leading people powerfully forward.
It means trusting that you are good enough to lead. Your experiences up until now, including your mistakes and your failures, have prepared you exactly for this. Trust that you can access the full breadth of your learning to support your team. You can tap into the power of your failures to drive innovation and share your mistakes to foster connections.
Getting naked is about being human and giving yourself permission to lead without fear and hesitation.
Lastly, know that you probably won’t get this whole leading-fearlessly thing right on the first try. Authentic leadership is much more difficult in practice than in theory, and that’s okay.
Remember, failure is feedback. Make mistakes and get it wrong. But learn from it, recover, and try again, too. You can get it wrong without being reckless. For example, your authenticity should not excuse negative behavior, put your team at risk, or blur boundaries into emotional responsibility. You can both lead fearlessly and authentically while maintaining your professionalism.
Also, know that there are degrees of authenticity. It’s up to you to consider whether you can be naked in your current work environment and to think about your role, the culture of your team, and your stakeholders. If you’re not sure or are feeling uncomfortable, start slowly.
As long as you’re thoughtful about your approach and follow the steps in this article, you’ll bring out the self-awareness, transparency, and openness in yourself and let your authentic, fearless leadership style shine through.
For more advice on fearless leadership, you can find Naked at Work on Amazon.
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