Does anyone out there remember “Dress for Success”? Back in the early 80’s, someone got the idea to tell people – especially women – how to dress to be successful. We were told to “dress like the boss” which back then was code for “look like a man”. So a generation of women went out and bought Hart Schaffner Marx navy blue pinstripe suits, cotton oxford shirts, and little bows that we tied around our neck so that we could somehow miraculously look like a guy when we went to work, and therefore get promoted.
As ridiculous as that seems today, it’s indicative of the problem that some people still have when they give advice on how to lead. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be aware of an “acceptable norm of behavior”, but whether you’re running a company, teaching a class, or raising funds for a charity, the most effective leaders are those who are authentic and original.
I’m a real advocate of “Do-It-Yourself Leadership”. Until we are comfortable developing our own style of how we lead and inspire, we’re merely playing roles, and pretending to act like someone we aspire to be, rather than someone we already are. Some of the advantages of “DIY Leadership” include:
- Recognizes the inherent weakness of “one size fits all” style
- Comes naturally and feels comfortable
- Plays to your strengths and forces you to complement yourself with people who have other skills
- Creates your personal brand
Think about the leaders you have most admired. They’re genuine. They’re natural. They seem to lead effortlessly. That’s because they’re just being themselves, and not trying to live up to someone else’s expectations.
Every one of us brings something unique to the table. How we think, how we listen, and how we communicate are all based on the experiences we’ve had and people we’ve met. As a result, if we’re able to bring all of ourselves to work every day, the organization stands to gain the most. Many management processes today systematically engineer the individuality out of leaders. It’s not to say common processes aren’t needed, for without them we might not get anything done. But we need to be careful not to leave too much of ourselves at the door every day. Allowing ourselves to bring all of our talents, our skills, and our “uniqueness” every day makes the workplace more interesting and more effective.