“Act well your part – there all the honour lies” Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744). This was the quotation my mother put on my 18th birthday cake. It has stuck with me for a very long time. It’s about what you do and say, the roles you take, the parts you play….and whether you do them with honour or not.
I’ve often assumed that being authentic is an important characteristic of leaders, but two articles recently have changed my mind. One was in the CIPD’s quarterly journal Work. Written by Matthew Gwyther, he points out that, for example, bringing your “whole self” – including your nastiest habits – to work is not necessarily a good thing.
The other article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic was first published by the Guardian in October 2021. He suggests that great leaders, like Barack Obama, are “in character all the time”. He believes that too much authenticity can cause problems and that “competence, integrity and social skills” are more important for leaders. He sees the leader’s development journey as “to learn how to go against your nature” rather than being true to your nature.
I would put it slightly differently, and say that as you grow as a human being, you develop and build out from your core, adding skills and approaches that enable you to achieve what you want. This is why a moral compass – integrity – is so important. As a leader, you can influence others, for good or ill.
One of the leaders I interviewed for my forthcoming book, Ashley Oates, described how he behaved during the first pandemic lockdown in 2020. He knew that “as a leader, you can’t portray panic”. He knew he had to play a part and that however he felt internally, he needed to consciously project a calm and reassuring manner.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says: “What matters in leadership is not whether people are being true to themselves, but whether they are good to others”.
Food for thought for all of us.