Leadership, Authenticity and Sasquatch Dan

Today it is my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Scott Duncan to The Leader’s Digest. Scott is the Co-Founder and Director of Aspire Executive Search –  a boutique, New Zealand-owned executive search consultancy.

Now this is an interesting display of leadership. If your life doesn’t allow you time to view the full three minutes, feel free to skip through it at 30 second intervals. I think you will still get the point.

Look at what can happen in under three minutes! I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but smile when I watch this.

There’s something about his carefree abandon, his willingness to try (and fail) and the way he embraces those who literally run to join him.

Putting aside my initial reactions, it has struck me just how many leadership traits this guy, let’s call him ‘Sasquatch Dan’, demonstrates – both consciously and unconsciously:

Courage – Sasquatch Dan is not afraid to put himself out there. Yes, it did look like a rather encouraging and supportive environment, but there was still an element of reputational risk involved. Sasquatch Dan took the initiative and very effectively led by example.

Confidence and conviction – I’m certainly not one to critique anyone’s dance style, but you have to admire Sasquatch Dan’s confidence. To quote a cliché, he was almost “dancing like no one was watching”. Through his approach he was able to inspire those around him to join in.

Openness and acceptance – Sasquatch Dan was not seeking to control anyone. He was open, accepting and inviting of all participants – encouraging and valuing the unique individual contributions of every individual.

He presented a vision, but let the teamwork form the reality.

Enthusiasm and passion – if you agree enthusiasm is infectious, Sasquatch Dan actually went viral (in real life). It was his energy and enthusiasm which motivated the crowd to form. More than anything though, it was his high level of authenticity.

Authenticity is hard to fake.

It innately resonates with people, engendering trust, participation and collaboration.

If a group of people dancing in a paddock is not quite cerebral enough for you, you may wish to consider this Harvard Business Review article on Authentic Leadership.

This study suggests there is no one clear profile of the ideal leader. It states leadership emerges, both consciously and subconsciously, from our unique experiences and life stories.

Authenticity, developed through an appreciation and understanding of one’s personal values, is the spark which ignites our leadership potential.

The quote below talks to the real risk of adopting a leadership style which is not sincere and true. Amgen CEO and President Kevin Sharer, who gained priceless experience working as Jack Welch’s assistant in the 1980s, saw the downside of GE’s cult of personality in those days.

“Everyone wanted to be like Jack,” he explains. “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”

Ultimately, I think it is impossible to be truly authentic until we genuinely understand and embrace our own personal values and drivers.

Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in an exercise with noted Corporate Anthropologist Michael Henderson (see his TEDx Talk here), which highlighted and crystallised my personal value set.

Whilst we may think these things would be fairly obvious, there were some real surprises at the end of the exercise. It became more of an awakening of the subconscious; the elevation of what I felt to what I now know and orientate my decisions towards.

Through this process of examination, I am now consciously more aligned to my values and am leading a more consistent and authentic life.

Some questions you may wish to ponder:

1. What values are most important to you?

2. Is your adherence/lack of adherence to these values impacting your effectiveness as a leader?

3. If you started dancing in a field, would your team run to join you?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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  1. […] “Leadership, Authenticity and Sasquatch Dan” by Scott Duncan […]

  2. […] ← Leadership, Authenticity and Sasquatch Dan […]

  3. Scott Duncan on August 8, 2014 at 3:57 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments, I think you’ve made some really good points.

    Organisationally, I can’t get away from the concept of trust in terms of encouraging individuals to take risks, make mistakes, initiate, lead and even follow. In my experience, trust is almost always a by-product of having a cultural alignment, or more specifically an organisation that has defined and shared values. It sounds cliched, but I see it all the time in my line of work – the difference between good and great (when it comes to executive appointments) is almost always cultural alignment.

    Thanks again for your comment,

  4. Grant Costello on August 8, 2014 at 3:17 am

    That video is a favorite of mine too and has generated many comments in our community.
    The video brilliantly demonstrates the tipping point in action. If you want to effectively manage and drive change, history suggests you need to create the tipping point where this will happen by creating, encouraging and empowering ‘brand leaders’ to bring the masses along.
    You’ll see in the video that as people feel that enough other people are doing something that is interesting and worth doing, they too feel comfortable, encouraged and inspired to also join in. In this case it all begins with just one guy, then two and once the third person joins the dance, suddenly it became a signal to all others that it was OK to join in and they do – en masse!

    In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly defined the concept of the tipping point phenomenon, whereby if enough people are engaged in an activity/idea/trend/behaviour it starts to spill over into the mainstream and the masses begin to follow. The concept is totally applicable to organisations – as change is initiated by the brave, others will follow.

    The video also nicely illustrates that in many situations, the arrival of the third person is such a critical stage to give momentum to change and get a movement of thought or action underway. There will always be thought/action initiators who tend to be of a certain personality and disposition which enables them to boldly make the first move, however, for those who will never be initiators, if they can drop a guard of concern as to what others will think of them, they very well may be the tipping point to get change underway. It is easy to follow a larger group, but if we had more of the ‘third guy’ in organisations, we’d get to a better place faster.

    Renowned thinker Seth Godin also commented on the video noting that it’s only when ‘guy #3’ joins the group that it starts to become a movement. “Before him, it was just a crazy dancing guy and then maybe one other crazy guy. But it’s guy #3 who made it a movement. Initiators are rare indeed, and it’s scary to be the leader. Guy #3 is rare too, but it’s a lot less scary and just as important”. And as for Guy #49? he is “irrelevant as there are no bravery points for being part of the mob”. Seth went on to say that “We need more guy #3’s.”

    The big question is how do organisations foster ‘Guy #3’ when they want to initiate change? How do they identify and support the leaders who can inspire other to follow?

    Malcolm Gladwell would call Guy #3 either a ‘Connector’ or a ‘Salesman’. In an organisation we would call Guy #3 a ‘Brand Leader(s)’ – those who bring people together, deliver a compelling message and help shape conversations and align behaviours to where an organisation needs them to be. They are ‘encouragers’ and ’empowerers’ and can create the tipping point whereby others willingly and enthusiastically come along for the ride.

    There’s no real secret to how organisations foster these people. It’s simple stuff really.

    1. Empower them with the belief and ability to make a difference. They need to know that they can, and will be supported from above.

    2. Provide them with a platform to shine. Give them opportunities to demonstrate their commitment and enthusiasm in front of others.

    3. Reward and Recognise. Follow the simple rules of good parenting – focus on, and reward ‘role model’ behaviour. Before long, the rest of the organisation catches on and a whole lot of people want to be like them.

    So if senior leaders want change in their organisation, they need to identify their Guys or Gals #3, give them some direction, outline the type of conversations and behaviours they want to happen, and let them loose!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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