Are You a “Paint-by-Numbers” Leader?

July 28, 2022

Are You a “Paint-by-Numbers” Leader?

May 29, 2023

Paint-by-numbers…lead by slogans. They both lack authenticity.

It's the brush strokes that define our leadership fingerprints. If we're lucky and conscious, over the course of a lifetime of leadership, we learn what feels right to us and reject what feels like someone else's script.

I recently had a conversation with a young mentee of mine. He's a first-time CEO, and more than half of the people he's leading are at least five years older than him. He lamented the fact that at a recent company-wide meeting, his cheerleading proclamations didn't land with his team.

I asked to see the actual PowerPoint presentation he gave, and it was full of clichés like "Lead by Example," "Think Outside the Box," "Show our Customers an Attitude of Gratitude," and "I'm an Open-Door Leader." Once I saw this, I realized I needed to help microwave his emotional intelligence.

Here's what I said, "The number one piece of feedback you've heard from your direct reports is that you're not open to other opinions. You can't be an open-door leader with a closed-door mind. Similarly, these 'attitudes of gratitude' platitudes only make you sound like a third-rate actor. What do you believe, down to your toes, about the value of leadership in your organization? Not just any leadership, but your leadership?"

After that, we had a candid, insightful, and deep conversation about what he truly believed and how the core values of his organization should reflect those beliefs. I told him about what former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh told me about their core values, "Chip, I know our core values are truly ours and represent us in the broader world, so when I do a Google search for our exact values—like Create Fun and A Little Weirdness—I see our core values come up as one of the first search results."

"Paint by numbers" art is a commodity. "Lead by slogans" leadership is just as cheap and inauthentic. Fortunately, there is an alternative—be yourself, unfiltered.

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