This past Sunday I got to spend a few hours as a “dumb blonde." It taught me some great lessons about authentic leadership. As an executive coach, I often work with clients to expand their leadership behaviors. As leaders we often get stuck within a narrow range of leadership behaviors. This can derail us because different situations call for different leadership behaviors.
You are naturally decisive and move fast but a business challenge you face requires you to slow down and build alignment. Or you are naturally good at collaborating with others but a business situation requires you to take a hard, unpopular stand. The most authentic leaders have access to a wide range of leadership behaviors because they have embraced all of who they are.
Here’s what embracing my inner “dumb blonde” taught me about situational leadership and being more authentic as a leader.
The Dumb Blonde Experiment
This experiment was for a class I was taking to deepen my executive coaching skills. Each member of the class got assigned the task to play the opposite of their usual persona (how we show up in front of others). My classmates identified my persona as smart, driven, focused, efficient, and articulate. So I got assigned the task of being a “dumb blonde” (no offense intended for any blondes reading this).
Now, you’d think that for someone who had a 4.0 GPA in college and spent Saturday nights at the library with my “Principles of Corporate Finance” book, playing dumb blonde would be really tough. Not so. Being a dumb blonde significantly improved my ability to be a better executive coach.
Here’s how it worked. In the role-play, being a dumb blonde as a coach meant that:
- I didn’t have to have all the answers. It created a great space for my clients to step up and have the answers.
- I asked simple questions: “Wow, I don’t understand. Can you like say more?” This allowed for introspection from the client.
- I gave up my own focus on getting the coaching objectives met and let the client drive according to their agenda. It created stronger accountability from the client.
- I had more fun (I guess it’s true what they say about blondes having more fun!). I didn’t have to be so responsible. There was more laughing and relaxing and that is when creativity emerged. The client had more fun. Really!
The Big Surprise
The big surprise for me was that I didn’t have to take a class, read a book, or practice hours of new behaviors. I just had to step into my own inner dumb blonde.
You see, we have all kinds of skills and behaviors in our arsenal. We mostly don’t access them because we have a fixed identity (or persona) for ourselves in our mind. We are capable of so much more when we give ourselves permission to be someone different – perhaps a part of ourselves that we have written off or disliked for a long time. The right behaviors just emerge.
Three Steps to Practice This
So how do we as leaders access more of the parts of ourselves that we need to develop?
Step 1: Identify a specific work situation where you are stuck or not being as effective as you would like. Our natural instincts when we are faced with something that’s not working is to do more of what we’re already doing – instead of stepping back to do something different.
Step 2: Step back and evaluate your behaviors. Pick the behaviors you need to practice more of. For example:
- If you need to be more assertive, find your inner Donald Trump.
- If you need to be more compassionate, find your inner Mother Theresa.
- If you need to be more daring, embrace your inner James Bond 007.
- If you want to learn to put yourself first, find your inner “Diva”.
- If you need to be more flexible, find your inner “beach bum”.
- If you need to be more of a rebel, find your inner twerking Miley Cyrus.
Step 3: Practice a role play with a friend. Have fun with it.
It’s amazing what we learn about ourselves when we give ourselves permission to be a different character. For one, I discovered that the world didn’t end when I wasn’t in control. Imagine that! The exercise expanded the range of how I coach. It doesn’t mean that I am any less smart, committed and responsible. It just means that I don’t have to be that. I am more at choice.
Practicing behaviors we need “more of” help them be more accessible to us in business situations. As we embrace the parts of ourselves we have written off, we discover our true authenticity and inner power.
Henna Inam is the CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc., and author of Wired for Authenticity - now available on Amazon. Learn more about her work at transformleaders.tv or connect with her on Twitter @hennainam.