Illustration with the text "The Path With CMSWire Contributor Brian P. O'Neill on the left, a path image running through the center of the image and Brian P. O'Neill's headshot on the right.
Editorial

The Path to Excellence, Part 5: Inspirational Leadership

6 minute read
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Leadership is so much more than being authentic, at least that's what we've been led to believe.

Editor's note: Brian O'Neill, CMSWire Contributor and former chief client officer for FIS, wrote for CX and other teams in his former organization a series of articles. Each were titled, “The Path ... " with each edition being a new take. For example, he would discuss culture, leadership, ownership, purpose, etc. In his six-plus years in his CX role, he sent out 286 notes with the intention to empower, reinforce and frame his company's mission by sharing insights to help his team improve its game and increase its level of engagement in what it wanted to accomplish. He revives some of these notes and adds some current perspective in this Fall 2022 CMSWire series

Early in our journey on The Path the idea of leadership was highlighted to reinforce to the team that you did not need a title to be a leader (Dec. 10, 2016), but it was more about the action you took to demonstrate key leadership skills (April 1, 2017) and drive the outcomes that would enhance the colleague and client experience.

Authenticity Matters in Leadership

In this updated version, we draw on the principles of leadership while callingout the secret sauce of what your team is truly looking for:

Authenticity.

Yes, that's it. One word. Or, if you prefer the two-word version: Authentic Leader.

I get it. Leadership is so much more than being authentic, at least that's what we've been led to believe (see what I did there?).

So, if the answer is so simple, why is it so difficult to put into practice? The answer to that question lies in our own imperfect humanity.

Call them the demons we carry, or perhaps some notion of "how we are to act" once we achieve a leadership role, these insecurities tend to hold us back from being our authentic self, and thereby impair our ability to lead.

Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader

With Authenticity Comes Vulnerability

To be fair, let's look at what leadership is about . . . inspiring, guiding, nurturing, challenging and even loving a team such that they consistently play and perform at a high level. Some of these seem to be cancel each other out . . . I mean, how can you inspire while challenging someone?

Exactly.

That's the joy of leadership and why everyone is not capable of being effective in that role. It also points to why your willingness to be authentic, the real you, the human — warts and all — is so critical to being an effective leader.

In the wild (aka: the place you call work), your colleagues have one inescapable and innate superpower: the ability to sense a fraud. Who me? A fraud? No way.

Way.

With authenticity comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes a level of trust others cannot achieve with a group of humans presumably trying to accomplish the same goal. You've heard the fraud before, "everything is fine, nothing to see here, we are doing great, just work harder."

Sometimes these are talking points generated to address a difficult situation or pending event that may just have an impact on a team. So, it begs the question, how would you prefer to be treated — with the truth and authenticity to the root cause, or just placated and told to run along?

Exactly. Part II.

There is an old sales adage that says, "people buy from people." Agreed. But I used to share with my sales team that people buy more from people they like, and they buy even more from people they like to hang out with.

Have you ever willingly hung out with a fraud? Made them a trusted advisor? Sought them out for advice?

Enter the Authentic Leader.

Learning Opportunities

This is the person that is no different in front of a crowd or in front of one colleague. Their passion for the team and the focus on successful outcomes is consistent, unwavering and sometimes understanding that the challenge ahead will be difficult.

The difference? They are willing to admit it. Share the challenge and call it what it is and ask for help from the team to solve it. Together.

Related Article: Do You Have the Traits of a CX Leader?

Do You Love Your Team?

At one point I had a leader that was struggling with their team, and I posed a simple question to the person, "do you love your team?"

Hesitation.

There was the answer.

Like any (positive, healthy) relationship, love is a two-way street. One party seems to know exactly whether they are being loved. They feel it. They know it at their core. They sense it.

Remember, in this example, (mature) love is defined as "being for someone." So, if the leader does not commit to loving their team, how or why would the team love them?

More importantly, how could they possibly be inspired by this person?

Back to the challenges of being authentic, my guess is that your MBA classes did not touch on vulnerability and authenticity as the key under-pinning of running a high-performing team. They probably provided the metrics to measure their performance but failed to provide you with what it actually takes to succeed.

Struggling with what you've read here? Well, ask yourself one question, "are you the same person with your family, friends, and work colleagues?"

The answer lies within, but don't worry, you don't need to be fitted for authenticity: it comes in all sizes and is always in-stock. You just need to take it off the shelf, put it in practice and watch what happens . . . your team will amaze you.

Enjoy the journey!

PS - "13 Inspiring Traits of Exceptional Leaders" by Glenn Leibowitz

  1. They trust you to do the job you've been hired to do.
  2. They seek your advice and input.
  3. They find opportunities to let you shine.
  4. They recognize your contributions.
  5. They have your back during tough times.
  6. They are master storytellers.
  7. They challenge you to do bigger and better things.
  8. They express appreciation.
  9. They are responsive.
  10. They know when to apologize.
  11. They give credit where credit is due.
  12. They treat others with dignity and respect.
  13. They care.

About the author

Brian P. O’Neill

Brian, a global CX professional, was most recently the EVP, Head of Global Client Engagement, at FIS where he led the Global Client Relations, Global Product Implementations, Professional Services, Client Outcomes and Learning Solutions teams for the Banking Solutions business segment.

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