Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Naked Leadership


Like many of us back in high school, there were many quips or phrases that we often used in our communication with friends. Some were innocent and others not so much. However, there was one particular saying of which I’m not sure of the origin or the real intent, but it was nonetheless a phrase often uttered… party naked.

I don’t know what made me recall this expression all these years later, but it did get me thinking about leading naked. Not in the real sense of streaking around our organizations with no clothes on, but in the metaphorical sense of being transparent or unadorned in our leadership style. A quick Google search of the topic revealed that David Bentley and Mark Gregory have books titled Naked Leadership and David Taylor has a series of books on the topic the naked leader. While this idea is certainly not new, my thoughts on naked leadership are somewhat different.

Strong and effective leadership requires an openness and transparency that let’s others in, keeps them close, and allows them to be successful. It is about partnership, collaboration, and teamwork. Like the emperor who wore no clothes, leaders sometimes become self-absorbed or arrogant forgetting that success can only be measured in how we treat others. We need not be complex or flamboyant in our leadership instead seeking a style that is au naturale and austere.

So, how do we become naked leaders… let’s explore:

Strip down to the basics

I am a solid believer that everything we need to know to be successful leaders we learned in kindergarten. Robert Fulghum defined things like sharing, playing fair, and living a balanced life as skills that transcend time and place and are as true today as they were when we where little. Instead of trying to make leadership more complex, we need to get back to the basics. Forget about trying to become a better leader and instead seek to be more natural and authentic. Improved leadership will be the result.

Shed our constraints

What restrictions or limitations do you place on yourself as a leader? Too often we allow others, and yes, even ourselves, to control our actions based on perception and emotion. However, effective leadership grows beyond such constraints and effective leaders become the thought leaders of their organizations, driving the vision and the message. In the words of Andrea J. Lee, “Want to strengthen your thought leadership? Crown yourself and assume the throne. Use opinion, story, and credentials to build authority.” 

Remove the obstacles

Much like the challenge courses many of us have completed along our leadership development journey, there are many obstacles, both real and perceived, that block our path. Too often we hold on to the mindset of a manager instead of the vision of a leader. Maybe we let fear of failure drive our decision making and action. Or maybe it’s as simple as our ego getting in the way. Whatever the obstacles, seek ways to remove them to make the path to your vision clear and open for you and others to follow.

Expose ourselves to others

Again, I’m not suggesting that you literally run naked through your organization, but I do propose that you bare yourself to others so that they see the true leader in you. I think it’s time leaders practiced a little unprotected leadership and let their passions shine through: shift your thinking, share your joys, acknowledge your skills, and try something new. If you exposed yourself in this way, imagine how your leadership could bloom.

Basically, naked leadership represents a new interpretation of the leader that you already are. It is uncovering the true leader that lives within, bringing it shamelessly out in the open for everyone to see. It is simple, unembellished leadership. Try it.