You Be You. More or Less.


Great leaders are authentic leaders. They let their true selves shine through and that’s what makes them so relatable. You’ve heard the saying: Be yourself—everyone else is taken. That’s all true, up to a point.

As a communications professional, I’ve worked with all types of leaders—the good, the not so good and everything in between. Developing a productive relationship with your team lead is all about getting to know each other and for me, that means getting to know their communications style and preferences. The following examples will explain what I mean and yes, I have changed names and other telling details!

Does the truth have to hurt?

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Joanne was fairly new to the company but she was proud of her ability to “tell it like it is” and her reputation for bringing “truth to power.” She didn’t like sounding rehearsed or robotic and preferred a more casual approach to her presentations. Unfortunately, that often left me in the dark.

Me: So, Joanne, let’s talk about your upcoming quarterly All-Hands Meeting. What are three topics that we should focus on?

Joanne: I think people on the team are talking about our competitor’s recent merger and what it means to us.

Me: Yes, I hear lots of buzz about that.

Joanne: Folks need to know that we’re in for the fight of our lives. To compete, we’ll have to start major cost cutting initiatives and even layoffs as soon as this year.

Me: Oh, wow. Let’s jot down some talking points—add some upside if we can. And maybe bounce the messages off a couple team members in advance to make sure we’re not causing panic.

Joanne: No need. I know what I want to say. We’re good.

As I watched her talk about the merger the following week, I couldn’t ignore the looks of distress and worry on almost every face in the audience.  Joanne had certainly expressed her perspective as the unvarnished truth but she failed to balance her doomsday scenario with one or two positive messages. I knew I had a long week of Communications Clean-Up ahead of me.

Be yourself but do your homework.

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So how CAN you coach a leader toward authenticity, while ensuring that their messages aren’t misinterpreted? It takes planning and lots of conversation. But you CAN get there. Here’s how a former colleague, Kathleen, known for her honest and calm leadership style, handled that same scenario.

Me: So, Kathleen, let’s talk about your upcoming quarterly All-Hands Meeting. What are three topics that we should focus on?

Kathleen: I think people on the team are talking about our competitor’s recent merger and what it means to us.

Me: Yes, I hear lots of buzz about that.

Kathleen: Folks need to know that we could be in for some changes but honestly, it’s early days. Let’s talk about what we do know so far and then ask for questions from the audience.

Me: Yes—in fact, how about if we reach out before the meeting to see what kinds of things people want to talk about so we can be as prepared as possible.

Kathleen: I like it. Let’s work on a 2-minute survey and send it out by end of day. That should give us time to get a handle on what people are truly concerned about—we won’t have to guess.

Kathleen got some tough questions during her meeting. She answered them to the best of her ability and didn’t try to guess what the future might bring. She was fully prepared and came across as confident and assured—which is exactly how she made her audience feel.

When you communicate, you certainly should be your authentic self and express your point of view. You must also do your homework to ensure that what you’re saying is as accurate as possible. Then work with your communications lead to craft key messages that will resonate with your audiences. Above all, keep open the door to productive dialogue to ensure that folks on the receiving end aren’t left less informed or more confused than before you opened your mouth.

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