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Building Awareness Around Your Authentic Leadership Style

Leadership

27 June, 2020

Agata Grzybek
Agata Grzybek

Engineering Manager at Netflix

Agata Grzybek, ex-Uber Engineering Manager, shares how to achieve authentic leadership and how it helped her become an effective leader.

Problem

At every stage of the management career, but especially early on, it’s important to not get caught up in the day-to-day tactical responsibilities and be able to set aside some time to reflect on what kind of a leader you want to be. Unfortunately, prioritizing this activity is not easy, especially when you are working in a high-growth company and when keeping your team and systems alive always comes as urgency.

Actions taken:

  • Understand why reflecting on your authentic leadership style is important. It helps to become a better leader. “We don’t learn from our experience, we learn from reflecting on our experience” is one of my favorite quotes that I start every retrospective exercise with, whether it’s a team quarterly retrospective or a retrospective on my authentic leadership style.
  • Prioritize the reflection time. Set aside time for reflection. It’s easier said than done. If you can’t afford to book a timeslot on your already full work calendar, make it a topic of discussion with your mentor, peers, manager, or spend an hour or two of your weekend to reflect on this. I love dedicating some time to journaling and I try to make it a relaxed and fun activity by doing it over a cup of coffee in the morning, or a glass of wine on a weekend afternoon.
  • Educate yourself on management systems and approaches. Sign up for company training if your company provides one. Be proactive about your education; there is a ton of great resources out there that we can learn from. Books like "Radical candor", "Multipliers", or "The making of a manager", can be great guides and inspirations, as well as podcasts like “Leadership Coaching” or articles on HBR.
  • Learn from your managers, managers around you, and other great leaders. Think about people who are leaders at your workplace and even more broadly. Write down the qualities you admire in people and those that you don’t (and don’t forget to analyze the why and reflect on how that makes you feel). Even if you have not been fortunate enough to have a great manager as a role model, you can still get lots of useful signals on what not to do as a leader. I also try to read memoirs of famous leaders and find role models from a variety of backgrounds, outside of tech.
  • Practice and listen to feedback. Theoretical knowledge can not replace experiential knowledge, so run experiments with your values and observe how they are received. For example, I find mindfulness an important quality in my life, but I wasn’t sure how my team would react to this. It turned out, the teams were open to our mindfulness practices and appreciated them! I also like sharing and learning about core values within my team. It’s fascinating to often see the overlap and diversity of values within the team It also helps team members understand each other and communicate better.
  • Keep evolving. Your management style will evolve with your experience, so make this reflection on the leadership style a regular practice. It’s useful to do your own reflection alongside other recurrent events in your team, like quarterly team retrospectives, or performance reviews.

Lessons learned

Be authentic. Investing time in reflection and finding what values and qualities really resonate with you is very important. There are many reasons for it. There are studies showing that people can sense unauthentic behavior and you simply can’t build trust if you are not being you. Also, being someone else isn’t sustainable and it will drain your energy and lead to burnout. Being an authentic leader is a win-win, both for you and everyone around you, especially your team. Another important lesson is that finding your authentic self is an ongoing journey, as you and your environment constantly change. It’s a journey worth taking!

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