lead actually

Lead Actually

By Susan Clarke. This article was first published on Susan and CrisMarie Campbell’s website thriveinc.com

I often hear leaders talking about how they want to be the best leader, a great leader, a perfect leader. I also hear other leaders wanting to be an authentic leader. All of these aspirations are overrated and get in the way of just leading – actually.

What do I mean by leading actually?

Here’s the deal. You’ll never be your ideal perfect leader. Even if you reach the mark you set for yourself, you’ll just set another higher goal to attain or you’ll at least want to repeat what you just did. It’s never enough.

Think about what you’re measuring yourself against. For example: Did you hit your quarterly success markers last quarter? Was there profit? Did your product release on time?

If you did hit those goals, what did you do?

I bet you set another, more ambitious goal for the next quarter! This is the path of the ideal perfect leader.

CrisMarie and I see this all the time with our leadership coaching and our team offsite work. Leaders are always trying to get more, “We need to be even more aggressive next quarter!” I have to admit, we’re even guilty of that ourselves.

Leaders and people are rarely satisfied with hitting the mark. Most leaders that I know are pretty competitive and are rarely satisfied with one win! Take CrisMarie in rowing for example — winning the National Championship once wasn’t enough. She had to win it every year or she felt like a failure.

So, what happens when you don’t hit that aggressive mark? When you don’t reach your goal?   I am guessing you double down and just try harder. Of course, that’s after you’ve beaten yourself up and likely anyone else who you thought didn’t put in enough effort.

There’s an actual cost to all that drive. Putting the body under stress, even for success, all the time, results in fatigue and burn out. Physical symptoms start to show up such as anxiety, depression, allergies, or old injuries, like back pain or shoulder problems. Not to mention addictive behaviors like using alcohol or drugs, eating junk food, or even exercise. You, your body, becomes an object and so does everyone around you. You are either a good object or a bad one – things become black or white.

Enough about the perfect leader, let’s talk about the person who wants to be the authentic leader.

What most people don’t recognize is that in order to fit in and succeed in your family, at work or in society, you repress your authentic nature. Your decision to conform and be successful outweighs your desire to be authentic. You’ve likely stopped listening to that whisper of your authentic voice a long time ago. Instead, you’ve adopted outer measures of success like good grades, going to the right college, getting married and having kids.

There’s a lot of press these days about reconnecting to your authentic self. Unfortunately, the press is just encouraging you to make “being authentic” another ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, connecting to your authentic self is valuable, and I do encourage you to listen and hear your intuitive nudges, but don’t get too attached to having to be authentic. If you do, you’ll be falling into the trap of making authentic leadership an ideal, you’ll starting driving for that perfect authentic leader, and that’s a far cry from being authentic.

So, lead from who you are actually – not your ideal self or your authentic self – but who you are right here, right now. Just lead actually and be a good enough leader.

I don’t know about you, but the leaders I remember and admire are the ones who acknowledge when hard work has been done, even if it didn’t result in a win. It’s the leaders who know how to accept the loss and disappointment, and have compassion for the team. It’s the leaders who celebrate what has been accomplished and the lessons learned.

It’s not easy, especially in a culture that is all about winning.  

I believe it takes courage, heart and tenacity to live and lead actually! Knowing you have an ideal and strive to achieve it, is natural and healthy. Knowing you’ve likely given up a part of your authentic self to make it in business is also natural. Have compassion for yourself.

It takes humility and strength to say, I’m good enough – you’re good enough. No, we won’t stop aiming for better, but we also won’t kill our heart and connections to get either!

That’s living and leading actually.


Susan Clarke and CrisMarie Campbell are members of The Haven’s core faculty, leading Come Alive, Couples Alive and Living Alive Phase I At thriveinc.com they turn around dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on business strategy.

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