I was getting breakfast with a colleague last week, and we were talking about leadership. Specifically we talked about polish. I told her that I preferred unpolished leaders; she disagreed.
For me, it’s examples like General Mattis that come to mind as an excellent and unpolished leader. I had the honor of serving under him and learned a great deal from him during my time in the Marine Corps. And I recall when he took some heat from the press for speaking from the heart. As I work through his book Call Sign Chaos, I think this quote sums up his leadership style:
When your Marines know you care about them, then you can speak bluntly when they disappoint you.
As my friend and I talked, it was obvious our definition of unpolished leadership wasn’t the same. Since then, I’ve been chewing on what to call it. Authentic leadership? Straightforwardness? Blunt and raw over verbose and fluffy? I’m sure many will tell me I’m describing servant leadership, but that term is so bloated that I prefer not to mention it. Maybe it would be easier if I just described what’s on my mind.
- Unpolished leaders have the ability to persuade those above of a difficult proposition but the unwillingness to use that skill to convince a subordinate that bullshit doesn’t stink.
- It’s leaders who use their position to protect their people not to control them.
- It’s a demeanor and sense of character that cleans up nicely for those above but who more enjoys rolling up their sleeves and getting some dirt under their nails.
- It’s doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.
- It’s the wisdom to recognize the right time to be blunt, to be gentle, and most importantly to be quiet. As my grandma taught me as a child:
You have two ears and one mouth. Do the math.
- If these unpolished leaders must submit to corporate BS, they use it to benefit their people and not themselves.
- It’s our leaders’ ability to be true to themselves but also adapt their style to fit the person or circumstance. Let’s call it elastic authenticity.
- It’s knowing when to act swiftly but also knowing when to be more thoughtful or strategic.
- It’s being radically transparent and candid but never sharing confidential or privileged information.
- These unpolished leaders are punctual. They exercise discipline and consistency in decision making. They’re dependable. When unavoidable, these leaders let down their superiors before they let down their subordinates.
- They lack ego. They freely admitting failure so others can learn from their mistakes.
- It’s stoking my passion but also telling me when I’m being a dummy.
- It’s resisting the tides of corporate stupidity realizing it could cost them their next promotion.
I feel like what I describe above is uncommon, and I want to call it unpolished leadership. Still, I’m certain that the name is ill-fitting so what should I call it instead? And I’m curious. What would you add, change, or remove?