Today I came across something that really it home with me – it was a New York Times interview of James P. Hackett, the CEO of furniture-maker Steelcase.
In it he told the story of how he met hotel magnate Bill Marriott back in 1994. He said,
“As we were talking about strategy, I remember being struck by the look in his eyes as he talked. I understood in that moment that he knew who he was. I wanted to have that quality as a leader, where it’s really clear who you are and what you stand for. It’s about being authentic.”
He’s right – leaders can’t fake it. Leaders HAVE to be comfortable in their own skin, because if they are not, because of their position, people can see it in their eyes.
The eyes don’t lie.
It’s often said they are the window to the soul, and that’s certainly true. But in the workplace, they can sometimes be literal “crystal balls” foreseeing either success or failure.
Do they betray a lack of confidence? A person trying to be something they are not? Do they even look back at YOU?
Hackett looks at it this way:
“The (leaders) I’m most impressed with do not seem packaged. But they have this sense of peace, this self-awareness, that says, “I understand who I am.” “
It may initially seem quite counter intuitive to use word “sense of peace” when describing great leaders in the hyper-active world of business, but if you give it some contemplative thought, it actually makes perfect sense.
Great leaders have the kind of self-esteem that shows outwardly as a quiet and humble confidence. They see success and failure differently than most people, and that’s a good thing.
They are BOTH opportunities. The glass is always half-full. They are not driven to “prove” their worthiness as leaders.
This gives them an ability to see order in chaos. To see solutions rise from the ashes of mistakes. To look their charges straight in the eye and tell them the truth, always.
It leads to something extraordinary, a deep bond of trust between the leader and the team. There are no barriers between them, only a constant flow of truth – and belief.
A belief that can withstand the gale force winds of change, the disruption of new technologies, and the challenge of ferocious competition.
There’s also something else that you can see by looking into the eyes of the “at peace” leader, almost immediately.
Think about that for a second. Think back on those bosses that didn’t respect your work, and your effort. It was in their eyes, wasn’t it? Disdain cannot be hidden.
Conversely, neither can respect – or honor, or admiration. It’s all there.
Leaders, look in the mirror. Look in YOUR eyes. What do you see? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Do you know who you are?
Look closely. The eyes don’t lie.