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Leadership is not a game of ‘pretend’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

A little theater can go a long way. Theater is made up of the stance you take, the tone you set, your appearance, your visibility and, to a large degree, your influence.

Grant Koster, a manager and partner at AthletiCo Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine says: “As a leader, you’re always onstage, being watched, analyzed and interpreted.”

But there’s a key distinction: You can’t fake it. Leadership is not a game of “pretend.”

You have to remain candid even as you appear to be “in control” of sometimes chaotic or uncontrollable events. And leadership does not mean “theatrics” or drama.

Examples of good theater in leadership:

If only it were real, the image of Gen. George S. Patton stepping in front of a huge American flag to give a speech was carefully staged theater.

As commissioner of the New York Police Department, Bill Bratton staged a public event for his force in which he permanently retired the badges of officers convicted of crimes, “so that no other member of this department will ever have to wear them.”

On leadership, former Intel CEO Andy Grove once said that “part of it is self-discipline and part of it is deception—deception in the sense that you pump yourself up and put a better face on things than you start off feeling. But after awhile, if you act confident, you become more confident. So the deception becomes less of a deception.”

Theater can be improvisational. Bill Pollard once spilled a cup of coffee at a board meeting of ServiceMaster, where he was then CEO. The company had long advocated servant leadership. Pollard quickly asked an associate to get him some cleaning materials and got down on his hands and knees to soak the coffee out of the carpet as the board watched.

No one commented. It was expected.

— Adapted from “How Much of Leadership Is About Control, Delegation, or Theater?” Jim Heskett, HBS Working Knowledge, http://hbswk.hbs.edu.

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