Break the Pattern Keeping You from Being Your Best Leadership Self

Break the Pattern Keeping You from Being Your Best Leadership Self

Many of us feel at times as if we are impersonating a leader rather than working out what it means to be ourselves in a position of leadership. Instead of covering up those underdeveloped areas, great leaders learn how to be the best versions of themselves in the leadership moments that matter. Because organizational culture is made through the shared experiences of its people, empowering individual leaders to step forward more authentically becomes a catalyst for positive culture change.

Take now-retired host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart. His story about the early years of his career offers a lighthearted but incisive description of what happens when you take a learner’s mind and experiment with the connection between who you are and what you aspire to do: “Sunday night through Thursday night it was me and drunk Dutch tourists in a basement in the Village…. I went on every night and I learned the difference between impersonating a comedian and being a comedian. And that was my break. [It] was learning how to be authentic. Not to the audience but to myself.”

Recognizing that “who you are is how you lead” enables you to take immediate steps toward your authentic leadership. As I discussed in that post, concrete actions, such as pressure-testing the clarity and integrity of your values, give you an opportunity to pinpoint gaps in your actions.

Within each gap there are often subtle patterns of thought and behavior that limit your authenticity — I call these “authenticity filters.” They take on many forms and often look healthy or positive at first, when really they are flaws. For example, maybe you are considerate of others’ feelings and take care in how colleagues perceive you. This is important, yet if you invest too much energy into being liked and start holding back just to please others, you’ve created an authenticity filter that will rob you of your leadership voice and the opportunities that it brings.

Because organizational culture is made through the shared experiences of its people, empowering individual leaders to step forward more authentically becomes a catalyst for positive culture change.

Regardless of what your roadblocks to authenticity may be, documenting the patterns that keep them in place is the first step toward a truer expression of who you are in the moments that count.

Aarush was a rising leader who found himself holding back his point of view. He was new to meetings in the C-suite and the combination of increased pressure to perform and a few difficult personalities in the room made it challenging for him to contribute freely. Staying silent was adversely affecting his reputation, and after a few meetings he was given sharp feedback to “step it up.”

Aarush knew that restraining his perspective was limiting his authentic leadership presence, yet he didn’t know how to flip a switch to start confidently expressing his own ideas or pushing back on others’. He sensed that he was getting in his own way, and he wanted to step back to gain perspective.

To see a bigger picture, and ultimately get to the root cause of what was happening, Aarush completed a 10-minute exercise to map the “trip-wire pattern” that kept him stuck. Starting with a simple list, he brainstormed then charted the familiar sequence of actions he found himself unwillingly repeating.


The first action was the intention/expectation that he should be speaking up more. After all, he had a seat at the table and wanted to use it. From there, he used items 2 through 4 to capture the rest of the sequence.

After a few simple revisions, Aarush had an accurate map of the authenticity filter that was undermining his leadership. Looking at the trip-wire pattern on paper also allowed him to take a step back and see each of the moving parts with more objectivity. Aarush reflected: “I can see it much more clearly now. This is just one pressure-packed cycle where the more I hold back, the more pressure I put on myself to have something brilliant to say, which only leads to more pressure — and more silence in the moment.”

The key to changing any underlying pattern of behavior is to spot the opening where a different response can trigger a shift in the status quo. Once he accurately mapped the pattern and reflected on its impact, Aarush was ready to disrupt it and turn it around. He chose to focus on step 3, because he realized a big assumption — “Whatever I say has to be brilliant!” — was hiding behind his choice to stay silent. Replacing this old assumption with a different mindset could inspire a new behavior, so he challenged himself to think differently.

Armed with this knowledge, two powerful thoughts helped him regain his authenticity: “I’d rather be real than right” and “Connecting the dots to ask a good question is enough to keep me in the conversation.” Over time this mantra, as well as the ability to notice moments where the old pattern began to reassert itself, allowed Aarush to relax and be more confident. Confidence was the catalyst for removing the authenticity filter that was diminishing his impact.

To map your own trip-wire pattern and discover your authenticity filters, follow these instructions:

  • Focus on one improvement you want to make as a leader, then answer the question: What’s getting in the way of making the change?
  • Write up a step-by-step list and document the sequence of actions that typically occurs and prevents you from making the change.
  • Edit the sequence until it feels accurate and consistent with your experience.
  • Answer the question: What can I do differently to shift the pattern?
  • Once you have an answer, identify the step where you can apply that shift and begin making the change.

Once you’ve documented your trip-wire pattern, you’ll be better positioned to learn who you really are and how to bring the best of yourself to moments of influence with others. And, as you and other leaders courageously step forward, it will set a tone for authentic engagement in your organization’s culture.

I welcome your thoughts on social media. 

Adapted and reprinted with permission from strategy+business.  © 2017 PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details.

Leaders, You Are Your Team’s Capacity Keeper

Leaders, You Are Your Team’s Capacity Keeper

When you think of an effective leader, several characteristics likely come to mind: confident, capable, adaptable. Less obvious are the abilities to conserve capacity by being selective about the projects he or she agrees to take on and then quickly recognizing his or her own demand-to-capacity gaps if the inverse equation of shrinking resources and increasing demands should spike.

However, it is not enough to simply be aware of your own limits; as an effective leader, it’s also imperative to act as your team’s capacity keeper, or the shepherd of the time, energy, resources, and focus that your employees have to devote to their essential work. We do this to avoid what I call the manager’s dilemma, a phenomenon that occurs when the gap between the demands you face and the resources you have available to meet them widens to the breaking point. When the dilemma surfaces, you get caught in firefighting mode, you stop influencing your work, you feel forced to react in the moment. Over time, you inadvertently begin to work against yourself with counter-productive behaviors that further drain your vital capacity.

When an organization’s culture is shaped by unreasonably high demands that aren’t materially supported with adequate resources — and there are no vigilant capacity keepers — prolonged capacity gaps cascade throughout an organization and hurt individuals, teams, and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Chronic capacity gaps increase stress and reduce well-being for individuals who must perform against unreasonable expectations in work environments marked by fast-changing, unclear, often conflicting priorities. There are also extremes of activity that produce work–family imbalances and the conditions for disengagement and burnout.

The second-tier effect of these capacity gaps is a protracted disengagement in which your people are less likely to innovate and seek creative solutions, invest time in developing others, and meet more challenging goals. They become more likely to blame others for problems and stay in the job even after mentally quitting. Think this is an issue you don’t need to address? Not likely. When your team checks out, the bottom line takes a hit. Employee disengagement costs the U.S. economy as much as US $350 billion annually, according to a Gallup study.

But how can you as an effective leader keep your team energized and well-fueled, and prevent them from checking out? Here are several tactics:

  1. Take a real-time pulse check. At any time you can take a moment to assess your, your team’s, or even your organization’s margin movement, or how much capacity remains for the work at hand, by asking yourself three simple questions. If your answers are yes, the downward tilt toward the zero margin effect has begun.
  • Have the demands on your people increased over the past several days (weeks/months/quarters)?
  • Are demands likely to stay elevated or continue to increase?
  • Do you lack the time, energy, and other resources to adequately address the demands on your people?
  1. Look for evidence of capacity gaps in your culture. Do your people need to humble-brag about how busy they are in order to get attention? Are you rewarding people for doing more with less, rather than doing better with fewer yet more important things? Are there unwritten rules that make it all but impossible for people to say no without career-limiting implications?

If you’re unsure, go deeper and ask questions of your team, and then listen to the way people talk about their work. Specifically, talk to them in ways that elevate their own awareness of self-defeating habits that take over when they’re overworked.

When you ask simple, honest questions — How have your demands shifted lately? How have you been challenged to meet demand with your existing resources? What is the real cost of your capacity gaps? — you’ll get honest, often powerful responses.

  1. Stop trying to solve the problem — manage the response better. There will never be enough time, energy, resources, and capacity. Therefore, the skilful ability to spot and shrink capacity gaps on the spot is an urgent responsibility for all leaders. And while there is leadership credibility in the display of courage to ask the questions, real integrity is established by a material response to closing the gaps. This includes precision in goal setting and commitments — and if something is truly important, then it needs to be given commensurate, sustainable resources to achieve it. It means that when somebody tells you, “I’m doing the job of three people since the recent cutbacks,” you translate that to: “I’m on a path to burnout because there is too much on my plate and the likelihood of critical priorities being overlooked is great because nobody can do the job of three people well.” And it includes building a system of checks and balances that enable objective, ongoing assessments of capacity requirements as compared with the existing availability at any time and at every level.

Rather than just assessing a new opportunity by asking, “Is it aligned with our mission and priorities?” you can also ask, “Do we have the existing capacity to do this with excellence, or can we increase our capacity to get it done?”

Once you’ve enlisted others in honest dialogue about the true demands of work, you are better positioned to simplify where possible, refocus where necessary, and develop the courage and confidence to challenge unwritten rules that may directly fuel and sustain the manager’s dilemma.

What are your thoughts and how can you add to this discussion? I invite your comments on social media.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from “A Leader Is the Capacity Keeper” from strategy+business.  © 2016 PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details.