The professionally personal leadership – on power and integrity in leadership

18. October 2021 - Rasmus Bay, VP, Consulting Nordic, Mannaz Share

In today’s complex and volatile world, the need for professionally personal leadership has never been greater. As a leader, you must also be fully aware of the human aspect of your leadership. For many years, authenticity has been promoted as an important element of being a successful leader. This view is challenged here by Rasmus Bay, consultant, and VP at Mannaz.

The Leader and the Complex Leadership Framework

“Leaders are also a type of human being, and perhaps leadership development is as simple and as complex as learning to be human in life…?”

Recently I participated in a panel discussion about what’s important in leadership today. Together with several engaging leaders from the Danish healthcare system, we addressed management challenges facing leaders today, and the statement above, met with nods of agreement. The general consensus was the task does not seem to be getting any smaller.

For leaders in the healthcare sector, it’s impossible not to mention the Covid situation and the enormous challenge it presents. More widely, we have long discussed a VUCA state – where organisations operate under ever-increasing levels of complexity, change, unpredictability and uncertainty. Leaders have the particular challenge of finding a way through this landscape.

The responsibility for providing direction and coordinating diverse strategic and organisational solutions and the ability to create engagement and purpose in the day-to-day tasks of employees is thus only becoming more significant. As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also recently learned from what might be called the second wave of #MeToo that there is a need for leaders to take on the responsibility of ensuring equality of opportunity and reducing misuses of power.

Management responsibilities potentially push and pull at the individual leader, and their only means of navigating this is the human being within them.

Complexity impacts managers too

The manager’s responsibility is to contribute to the organisation’s capacity to be commercially viable, whether it exists to create commercial or welfare benefits. At the same time, they are entrusted with the power to foster an environment where everyone contributes to value creation, both vertically and horizontally, throughout the organisation. Therefore, as this responsibility lies with managers, we also need to examine the responsibility of managing the interpersonal in a ‘proper’ way.

The complexity and fluidity also affect managers. Management responsibilities potentially push and pull at the individual leader, and their only means of navigating this is the human being within them. Personal leadership, or what one might call a personal compass, consists of conscious values, ambitions and the ability to put discernment and agility into play continuously; knowing when to hold back, when to pick up the pace, when to lead, when to get involved, when to listen and when to speak.

Leaders need to have an accurate personal compass and have some awareness as to the values that drive them. The need for personal leadership has never been greater; to be mindful of the human part of my leadership and how I can work on my personal managerial integrity when I get on the playing field against tough, unpredictable opposition.

Although there seems to be a need for a highly personalised leadership in times of crisis, countless studies show that better decisions and more sustainable organisations and results are generated by complementary competencies and collaborations between different people.

From authenticity to integrity

Let’s pause to consider integrity and why it can be challenging to maintain. The fluidity and complexity of the situations you face as a manager require almost continuous reflection on who you are and what you stand for to maintain or recreate a sense of fulfilment and be yourself. Without this, life, in this case, work-life, is experienced as disempowering and potentially meaningless.

For some time, being an ‘authentic leader’ has been a popular go-to in management jargon. It’s said to give managers a human side, strengthening their ability to create rapport and lead people from a relationship basis. However, because authentic leadership has several pitfalls, we recommend a shift from authenticity to integrity.

Authenticity is derived from the Greek word ‘autarché’, meaning ‘to be [the same] as I used to be’. It refers to a past core; following this meaning, authenticity tends to solidify the human or the personal. In recent times we’ve seen highly authentic leaders who tend to fragment rather than unite. The highly authentic leader plays with the myth of the ‘decisive’ man or woman. Although there seems to be a need for a highly personalised leadership in times of crisis, countless studies show that better decisions and more sustainable organisations and results are generated by complementary competencies and collaborations between different people. It is plain wrong to claim that a single individual makes the decisive difference on their own.

When an authentic leader works strategically with their team, it is done from a position of power, which tends to preclude fresh thinking and the acceptance that they can’t use the traditional toolkit to respond to some challenges.

Too much me and too forceful

On the individual level, being ‘authentic’ is also problematic for managers.

The #MeToo movement has provided examples of how managers overtly ‘being themselves’ while not taking their environments and contexts into account, which has caused offence and made people feel uncomfortable. Managers being too much themselves. We can call this problem, ‘too much me’; there’s just too much of the private person (desires and appetites in this instance) at work. When the manager is in a position of power, it’s not possible to fix just what is ‘too much’ for an ordinary human interaction since the relationship is by definition not equal.

From both the first and second waves of #MeToo, it’s also become clear to most people that abusive behaviour is very much about the abuse of power. Therefore, it should prompt a discussion in organisations about the duties of proper conduct and professionalism that comes with managerial responsibility.

Another concern relating to authenticity is how much the manager invests of themselves. If the job of management becomes an investment of the entire person, the demands are often too great. We can also call this ‘too much me’. Few leaders walk around with a sense of continuous and total wellbeing and success. If a leader invests their entire existence to management, they bear immense responsibility and pressure to succeed. Very few people can tolerate that, not even managers.

There’s a further problem we can call ‘too much power’. Authenticity, as previously mentioned, carries the meaning of something static, which calls for authentic leaders to rely primarily on their strengths. Derailment research (that is, research on what makes leaders fail in their roles), and studies on versatility in leadership, show that leaders, rather than cultivating their strengths and core competencies, should develop reflexivity and the ability to shift focus and role. To succeed, a leader should have an eye on what is required of the position and refine and add more arrows to their managerial bow to meet leadership needs, rather than rely overly on their strengths or draw on them unilaterally.

Finally, authentic leadership can be restricted in terms of flexibility and reflection. An authentic leader has limited ability to reassess what is going on in difficult situations or in strategic discussions that require innovation and inclusion of new viewpoints and to make sense of what is happening – between people and in business opportunities. When an authentic leader works strategically with their team, it is done from a position of power, which tends to preclude fresh thinking and the acceptance that they can’t use the traditional toolkit to respond to some challenges.

Leaders have greater resilience when they manage how and to what extent they’re professionally personal at work.

Integrity – the professionally personal

This brings us closer to what integrity in leadership is all about. It’s about searching for balance, about being human as a leader, but not too much. We can call it being professionally personal. About finding just those points where the human connection contributes to relationships, but without being ‘too much’. Where we as leaders are ourselves, but also where the private is held back out of respect for the fact that leadership is a job and not the whole of one’s life. Where power is taken seriously and exercised consciously, and where engagement is strong, without being ‘too strong’.

Leaders have greater resilience when they manage how and to what extent they’re professionally personal at work. They need to be discerning and reflective to retain their integrity, be a whole person and see the bigger picture using their skills when different company decisions and values conflict with their own.

 

The road to integrity

The task is the same as learning to be human; you need to become the version of yourself that is appropriate and required for leadership while being aware of the personally meaningful. As a leader, you achieve integrity by being exploratory between the external and the internal and, to a lesser extent, drawing out what you (always) were. This requires reflection, self-awareness and a bit of distance. On the other hand, it’s easy to get started.

Tips for greater leadership integrity

  • Request feedback to gain additional viewpoints.
  • Listen to what people are saying (not just what you want to hear).
  • Be aware of and challenge the assumptions you make about people you manage. You won’t totally avoid your biases, you can, however, become (more) aware of them and perhaps diminish them.
  • Don’t let your entire existence depend on your managerial success.
  • Accept that although you are responsible for leading and managing as well as ensuring the achievement of objectives and results, in the end, you may not be able to control everything completely.
  • Co-create an environment that allows you to reflect and become wiser.
  • Recruit people who are different from you and who require leadership styles less familiar to you.
  • Try to listen to the leadership needs and try out tools that are different to those you typically use.
  • Allow flexibility and the search for integrity to shape your professionally personal leadership.
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Rasmus Bay

Rasmus is VP of Consulting Nordic at Mannaz. He has worked as a management consultant, facilitator and leadership trainer for 15 years. Rasmus has also held leadership roles in various contexts. Rasmus is passionate about personal leadership and has many years of experience developing personal leadership from C-level to first-line managers. His focus is, in particular, on managers’ ability to balance leadership with the business and organisational context. To learn more, please contact Rasmus at rba@mannaz.com or + 45 40222922.