Authentic Leadership: Beyond Buzzwords

Authenticity. We hear that word a lot these days — and I’m glad people are talking about it. The problem is, many leaders struggle to be authentic. Why? 

For one, it takes work. Plus, outdated notions of good leadership where vulnerability, empathy, and emotions were supposed to be kept out of the workplace still have tentacles in our modern day society. 

Authentic leadership is about being genuine, transparent, and true to one’s values and beliefs. It’s about leading with both the mind and the heart, and it’s a powerful tool for inspiring trust, fostering collaboration, and driving change.

So, what does authentic leadership look like? Here are 4 key aspects:

  1. Trust and Credibility: Authentic leaders earn the trust of their teams through their actions. They walk the talk, aligning their actions with their words. This consistency builds credibility, making it easier for team members to believe in their leader’s vision and follow their guidance.
  2. Open Communication: Authentic leaders foster an environment of open communication. They are not afraid to show vulnerability, admitting when they don’t have all the answers. This openness encourages team members to share their ideas and concerns without fear of judgment.
  3. Empathy and Understanding: Authentic leaders show empathy, taking the time to understand the challenges and perspectives of their team members. This allows them to make better decisions that take into account the needs and aspirations of their team.
  4. Inspiring Others: By being true to themselves, authentic leaders inspire others to do the same. They encourage individuality and self-expression, fostering a culture where everyone feels valued for who they are.

In a world that’s craving transparency and honesty, authenticity in leadership is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. It’s the key to building strong, resilient teams that can navigate the complexities of today’s business landscape. 

Want to help your leaders find their authentic voice and cultivate an inspiring and authentic leadership identity? Let’s talk.

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Admire and Learn. Don’t Compare.

When I have to drum up business, I often start letting comparison get in my way.

I log on to LinkedIn, see other people with less experience and credentials than me posting about the great things they’re doing in my space (leadership communication)…

…And in the past I have let it stop me from promoting my own capabilities.

Imposter syndrome? I don’t think so. I’m confident in my work and I’m passionate for who I help.

It’s comparison that’s the killer for me.

And when I get out of my own way and let myself just do my thing, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I feel authentic. That’s when I connect with the people who want my help. That’s when do my best work.

The tip of the neighbor’s iceberg often looks very nice.

—Roy A. Ngansop

The bottom line…

As a leader, don’t compare yourself to others. You’re only seeing the bright side that they are choosing to show. Sure, some share their failures and missteps. But not many. The majority of what we see out there is only the good stuff.

Admire others. Learn from them. But don’t compare.

Ultimately, your leadership style and approach needs to be your own.

Own it.

I’m here to help.

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The Data Doesn’t Speak for Itself

I coach a lot of life science and biotech clients who create scientific and technical presentations. From pitches to high stakes regulatory meetings, time and again speakers overload their presentations (slides and talking points) with data — with the expectation that the data will do the job that the speaker actually needs to do themselves…

 …tell the story the audience needs to hear.

And do you know what? It’s not just the technical and scientific leaders we coach who do this. So, let’s take a moment to discuss how to transform your presentations from data dumps to captivating narratives.

Stop Bombarding Your Audience with Information

Here’s the challenge I often see in data-driven or scientific presentations: you present the data beautifully, but the story behind the data gets lost. You haven’t shown your audience the human impact, the problem you’re solving, or the exciting future your research, therapy, or solution promises.

So many numbers, charts, jargon — it’s enough to make anyone’s eyes glaze over. And don’t forget that your audience is seeing your presentation for the first time! You’ve likely lived with it for weeks, months, if not years. How do you help them absorb it? Remember it?

You have a secret weapon waiting to be used: storytelling.

Stories are Key To Unlocking Audience Engagement and Understanding

We humans are wired for narratives. Stories tap into our emotions, make complex ideas relatable, and leave a lasting impression.

So, how do we weave a compelling story into your data-driven presentation? Here are a few tips:

  1. Identify the Core Message: Before diving into data sets and charts, distill the essence of your presentation into a clear, concise message. What story do you want your audience to walk away with? Define this narrative core, and let it guide your entire presentation.
  2. Know Your Audience: Understanding your audience is fundamental to effective storytelling. Tailor your narrative to resonate with their interests, concerns, and level of expertise. Whether presenting to investors, researchers, or the wider public, adapt your story to connect specifically with them.
  3. Create a Narrative Arc: Just like any compelling story, your presentation should follow a logical and engaging structure. Introduce the characters (the researchers, the subjects, or the molecules), build tension with the challenges faced, and culminate in a resolution—the impact of your research or the promise of a brighter future.
  4. Visualize Your Data: Support your narrative with visuals that enhance rather than overwhelm. Use graphs, charts, and images strategically to emphasize key points in your story. Remember, visuals should complement your narrative, not serve as a substitute for it.

The Story is the Glue

Remember, your data is the evidence, but your story is the emotional glue that binds it all together. By weaving a narrative into your presentation, you’ll not only inform your audience, you’ll move them and inspire them. Craft your story with care, and watch as your audience transforms from spectators to active participants in your journey.

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Leadership Quick Tip: Talking About Conflict

Remember that people experience conflict differently — yet we often assume everyone sees it the same way.

For example, I have a tendency to slow things down and take stock of what happened. In fact, when I led teams, they use to think I was angry at them when something went wrong because I would get quiet, and go into analysis mode. I wasn’t angry in most cases! I simply like to take the time to properly figure out how to get myself (and others) out of conflict.

You, however, might have a tendency to move fast and resolve things quickly. Or maybe you want to give in on something that doesn’t matter much in order to end the conflict.

Guess what? We’re probably going to tweak each other and it’s going to get worse.

Talk to your people about how they feel when they experience conflict. Ask them what they want. Time, harmony, quick action? You might be surprised.

Conversations about conflict before you’re in it will give you insights into how to support each other to get out of it.

For example, I need time to think. Give that to me, and I’ll feel better faster. But you won’t know to do that unless you know that about me.

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Your Team Needs to Hear That You Value Them

Your team is your greatest asset. You know that. But life, work, and the world is moving so fast….

Yes. That’s exactly why you need to make it a priority to make your team members feel seen and valued. Here are some ways to do it.

Recognize Individuality

Acknowledge the unique qualities each team member brings. Embrace diversity—be it in skills, backgrounds, or perspectives. When individual uniqueness feels acknowledged, inclusivity flourishes.

Unleash Superpowers

Identify and leverage the strengths of each team member. Everyone has superpowers that contribute to the team’s success. Use these strengths to fuel motivation and purpose.

Acknowledge Hard (and Good) Work

Don’t underestimate the power of appreciation. Regularly express gratitude for your team’s efforts. A simple “thank you” goes a long way, but adding the “why” goes even further in fostering a culture of value. Some phrases that work: “If it weren’t for you…” or “What you proposed made all the difference….” You get the idea.

Cultivate a Culture of Value

Build a culture where communication is open, feedback is kind and constructive, and everyone’s well-being is a priority. This not only boosts job satisfaction but also creates a resilient and high-performing team.

Success is intertwined with the value each team member feels. See your team, appreciate differences, unleash superpowers, and recognize good work.

Strengthen these bonds, and you’ll cultivate a culture of respect, collaboration, and success.

Communication matters, as does every member of your team.

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More Than Words

Email, Slack, Teams, text messages… we communicate with words a lot.

Words matter. They do. And so does body language, tone, and context.

Leadership isn’t only about the words we choose. It’s about listening actively, and understanding your team’s perspectives, concerns, and ideas. Making people feel that they, and the work they do, matters requires more than words that tell them so.

Use your entire toolkit when you can. Let people see your facial expression and body language. Give people the benefit of your tone of voice.

And get good at questioning (and coaching) based on what you hear. This simple act can help make what might seem like an uneventful interaction a catalyst for creativity or change.

People share more when they feel heard. People take more risks when they feel safe.

Listening and curiosity are leadership superpowers that can drive team performance every day.

And when you show up fully with more than words… you show people that you care, and that they matter.

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In Person vs. Remote

I was fortunate to meet, coach, and train leaders on two continents and in 3 countries last year.

Michael Piperno on a street in Toronto

Here I am during my last trip of 2023 — Toronto! What a great city.

I can’t tell you how much the in-person experience fuels me in my work.

Yes, remote programs are effective when done well. I like doing them. In fact, I can do more of them and make more money in a year doing so.
But I’ll always prioritize in-person programs.

When you invest in people by allowing them to benefit from the richness of being physically together, and spark the deepening of interpersonal relationships that come with that, they win. Big.

And so do you and so does your organization.

The positive and lasting effects may be intangible at first.

It’s a long game.

And you know the truth…. It’s worth it.

Relationships are everything in business. Cultivate them.

Want to have me visit your team and facilitate a program that will help strengthen relationships, communication, and leadership?

Let’s talk.

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SDI compare feature screen shot

Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) Updates

For those of you who have experienced the SDI assessment with me, here’s some news.

The Compare Tool has received a significant upgrade.

  • You can now compare up to 30 teammates simultaneously, offering a comprehensive view of team dynamics. This feature enables you to delve deeper into understanding and building stronger relationships, fostering a more cohesive and collaborative environment.
  • You can also get insights on how to respect each other’s strengths, and navigate and avoid potential triggers.

Log in to the platform to check out these new enhancements!

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Leadership Superpowers (and Kryptonite)

Before I ran my own businesses, I would get a piece of feedback during some annual reviews that would annoy me — incredibly.

It came in different permeations, but always sounded something like this:

  • “Michael, you sacrifice too much of yourself for people who don’t always deserve your support.” 
  • “Sometimes the team doesn’t need so much support from you. You need to learn when to let them sink or swim on their own.”

Okay, so listen. I’m a supportive person. I get it. It’s one of my top strengths, and frankly it’s a superpower for me in my work. 

What’s the flip side of being supportive? Sometimes I can be seen as self-sacrificing.

The key words here are “seen as.” In other words, “perceived as….” 

Ahh, we’re entering the realm of perceptions. And what comes with that? 

The need to manage them.

In the past, I would disagree with the “you’re being too supportive” perception, but not address it with the person who saw me that way. So, that false perception would sit out there like a ding on my reputation. 

Today, with the wisdom that comes with age and experience, I don’t let that happen (mostly).

Now, are there times where I am too supportive to the point of self-sacrificing? I won’t lie, it happens. But it doesn’t happen as much as others may think. 

For example, the leader who is struggling with speaking clearly and with enough impact when rehearsing for a high stakes presentation — one who other people think will never be prepared enough to perform. They think we should give up and replace that person with someone else. What they don’t know is that I know exactly where that leader is in the process, and I know with a few more tactics and a little more time (and support), we’ll get there. And when we do, the person is going to knock it out of the park. 

I know it, but some people can’t see it — yet. 

A final note on this topic. There are times when, for whatever reason, I do need to stop supporting. Maybe there’s not enough time to prepare someone properly for a role or event. Perhaps the person doesn’t want the support. And yes, sometimes continuing to support someone who doesn’t want it or who is not improving will end up sacrificing the success of an entire program. Then, the support needs to stop. 

My point, though, is this.

Don’t let other people make you feel like your leadership superpowers aren’t valid or powerful. 

Consider the fact that those strengths might simply not be working for other people in the room at that specific moment. It’s their issue, not yours. But… and it’s a big but…

You still need to manage those perceptions. 

Speak up about how you see it — give them the “why” behind your actions. Or pull back on your intensity with the superpower. Sometimes a small adjustment in how you use it can make all the difference.

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The Power of Your Name

See my facial expression in this photo? It’s expressing how I feel when someone calls me “Mike” right after I’ve introduced myself as “Michael.”

If you call me Mike and you aren’t family or a super-close friend, I know you don’t know me well.

What else does it mean?

That’s right, the person didn’t listen.

Listen. That’s leadership lesson 1 from this brief rant. Lesson 2 is this…

People appreciate hearing their own names. In fact, the use of personal names in communication has been shown to enhance attention and recall, and makes people feel recognized and important.

In short, people light up when they hear the music of their own name.

So, use people’s names when you communicate. And when you meet someone new, listen carefully when they introduce themselves to you, and say their name back to them. (Nice to meet you, Anthony.)

It’s not just a word; it’s a powerful connection. Plus, you’re more likely to remember it if you say it out loud.

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