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Why authentic leaders have more energy

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

(this article appeared in DUTCH in magazine)

Whether I could coach him to become more strategic, Marc asked me during our first conversation.

'Why would you want that?', I replied.

'Because that is the feedback I get time and time again: I need to be more strategic.'

"And is this something you want for yourself, being more strategic?" I probed further.

He looked a little puzzled. 'I don't know,' he said, 'to be honest, it drains me, all that abstract stuff.'

Often coachees come to me with coaching questions that do not arise from within themselves. They are based on outside expectations. Not only do these external questions slow down the coaching process, I seriously doubt whether it makes any sense at all to coach based on a question that does not burn in the coachee himself.

In fact, leadership coaching works the other way around: we look at what is already there and make it bigger. Because I firmly believe that a person can grow the most by developing their inherent talents. So it makes more sense to invest in the things we already have an aptitude for.

That brings me to authentic leadership: leadership that is based on your true identity, far away from the armor or mask you have put on to protect yourself from rejection. It is a basic human need to be part of a group: your family, at school, at work. The lure of the group can be so powerful that we lose ourselves. So in the search for authentic leadership, we go back to the core. What makes you genuinely happy right now? What gives you energy?

Authentic leadership is about discovering your authentic core (identity) and your true ambition (purpose) and learning to live by these guidelines. If you don't, your energy will dissipate. It is tremendously tiring to live on a different frequency day in and day out. Compare it to a radio that is not precisely tuned to the right frequency: an annoying noise comes through. This irritates the listeners, because they don't understand the message.

At the same time, it is also counterproductive for the sender himself, because in addition to the effort it takes to broadcast the message, he also loses a lot of energy to that noise.

In the ideal scenario, an authentic leader is fully attuned to his identity and works in a context where his type of leadership is needed. If that combination then also attracts employees who are on the same frequency, it creates a resonance that can lead to unexpected results. The more everything is on the same frequency, the purer the result.

That is, no energy is wasted on:

- doing things that don't match with your talents: think of the fish that wants to climb a tree,

- getting employees to buy into a story they don't agree with,

- aligning people who are on a completely different course.

How did it turn out for Marc? During the coaching process, we explored who he really is, using leadership archetypes. It quickly became clear that Marc is a Playmaker. Since he actually played rugby in his spare time, we were able to explore this metaphor in very concrete terms. Then we brought this archetype back to the initial request of the organization: become more strategic.

What does a Playmaker do to be strategic? He translates the coach's abstract strategy into actions on the field. Suddenly Marc's strategic role became clear: it was not about formulating strategies, but about translating the abstract strategy into guidelines that work on the field.

Marc looked relieved: "Frankly, up until now I didn't know what they meant by being 'strategic,' but this is something I can work with.”

Moral to this story: don't base your leadership development on the expectations of others and always, yes always, start from who you are. Only by developing your identity, your leadership can grow, with enough energy to spare to realize your ambitions.


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