Congruent, what’s that? Congruence is defined as behaving in a way in which your values and your actions match. Sounds simple, right?
Over the last decade or so, I’ve done quite a bit of coaching with leaders who are preparing to interview for various leadership roles. One of my best pieces of advice to them is to demonstrate congruence in their interview. That is, when they say they have particular values, strengths or abilities, they need to be able to give clear examples of those things and weave them throughout their interview.
Demonstrating congruence is important for leaders at all times, not just in an interview setting. When your actions match your values, it gives people confidence that you lead authentically and act with integrity. Still, demonstrating congruence is not easy. It’s one thing to have the self-awareness to know and communicate your values, but it’s another thing to ensure that your actions always follow your espoused values.
In her chapter on Congruence in the edited book, Leadership for a Better World, Tricia R. Shalka, says “Acting in congruence means you give time and energy to the things you say are important. If you say your family is most important but you choose to work 80 hour weeks and, via technology, are never truly with your family 100%, is that congruent with saying your family is most important? Probably not.”
So how can you ensure that your values and actions are congruent? Here are a few questions for you to ponder:
- What are my core values?
- How do my actions demonstrate my values?
- What actions have I taken recently that are clearly aligned with my values?
- What actions have I taken recently that are not aligned with my values?
- Do I need to change my actions to bring them in line with my espoused values? Or do I need to re-evaluate my values and communicate them honestly to myself and others?
- How can I demonstrate congruence with those I lead?
Last week I was struck with the congruence that Dr. Annette Parker demonstrated while sharing her story of her early career. She started working at a GM plant fresh from high school and only later began her education at a community college, quickly becoming a tutor and then an instructor. Dr. Parker continued her education and rose through her career to become a president of a community and technical college, and now leads collaborative workforce development efforts for the system. Her career has demonstrated the way she values both technical and continuing education for herself and others.
What examples of congruence have you seen in yourself or leaders around you?
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown
I’ve just returned from an energizing meeting of the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) national board in Chicago. The consortium is a member-governed organization that focuses on attracting talent to colleges and universities around the country. This morning I was reflecting on why I enjoyed it so much.
I was so impressed with my fellow board members. Each of them are passionate about their work in recruiting faculty, staff, and executive leaders and providing recruiting resources to colleges and universities in their regions. And they are committed to helping guide the national organization to make sure that it is meeting its member institution needs. In short, they each demonstrated authenticity from the executive director of HERC on down.
This authenticity was visible in how the executive director invited board members to actively engage in generating ideas and discussing future directions for HERC, offering up their talents and perspectives. Not surprisingly, authenticity was demonstrated most strongly in how differences of opinion were allowed to be voiced and explored. Rather than curtailing difficult discussions around priorities and limited resources, members were encouraged to present their perspectives, and argue passionately and respectfully on behalf of their region’s needs.
It feels great to be part of an organization that is led authentically. It allows everyone else to participate authentically as well: to show up, be real, be honest, and let their true selves be seen.
“Leaders must attend to one key growth question: How authentically am I showing up in the world and my organization?” –Tom Gegax
How are you showing up in the world and your organization? When was the last time you paused to reflect on this question? For me, I know I can often get so overscheduled and busy getting the work done, that I don’t often think about HOW I am getting it done. How am I interacting with my team and other colleagues? Is it in an authentic way?
Am I communicating in a genuine, honest way with others? Are my messages congruent? Am I listening openly and valuing the feedback of others? Is my behavior aligned with my purpose and values?
As DeeAnne shared in her last blog, most leaders don’t ever set out to be inauthentic, it just happens from lack of reflection or lack of purposeful practice. Another resource that I’ve found helpful is Kevin Cashman’s: Leadership from the Inside Out (1999). Written in a workbook style, meant to help you with reflective practice in your leadership journey, Cashman outlines what he’s observed as the five touchstones of authentic leadership:
- Know yourself authentically: Invest in becoming self aware. How well do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Even more important, what is your core purpose and the values that underlay that purpose? If you want to be more effective with others, you need to know yourself first.
- Listen authentically: As Stephen R. Covey succinctly put it: “Seek to understand first, then to be understood.” This is a tough one. How often do you really hear what another person is saying and feeling, without filtering it first with assessments, opinions, and judgments? Authentic listening can help you be open to purpose and learning from others and can create a platform for synergy and team effectiveness.
- Express authentically: This is more than just communicating honestly, it’s really about communicating from the heart in a way that demonstrates straight talk combined with concern for people. Cashman explains that it can be helpful to ask yourself these questions when communicating: Am I authentically expressing my requests? Am I authentically fulfilling my promises?
- Appreciate authentically: Cashman says that “as leaders, we do too much and appreciate too little.” Have you ever been appreciated too much? Most likely not! Look for what is going well and celebrate the good things with your team. Appreciation energizes people and makes people want to exceed their goals.
- Serve authentically: As Cashman points out, leadership is actually a continuum of service. We serve our organization. We serve our people. We serve our students. We serve our community. Ask yourself, how do you want to be of service? As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others.’ “
When you look at these five touchstones, which ones come naturally to you? Which ones are more of a struggle? For me, appreciation comes easily, it’s something that was reinforced by my parents growing up. But listening authentically is more challenging.
This month I’m going to commit to listening openly to others and tamping down that urge to formulate an immediate response. I’m hoping that it will improve how authentically I show up in the world.
What can you do this month to strengthen how authentically you show up in the world?