For author and executive advisor Liz Wiseman, authenticity isn't just a buzzword — it's the crucible of leadership.
Drawing on her experience with tech giant Apple, Wiseman recounts how Tim Cook, current CEO, managed to maintain his authenticity despite succeeding the iconic Steve Jobs. As an outside coach and consultant, Wiseman witnessed Cook grapple with the immense challenge of stepping into a role so deeply entwined with Jobs’ charisma. Yet, Cook's dedication to authenticity – to being himself, even under the spotlight — has allowed him to drive Apple forward without faltering under the weight of the past.
Wiseman's take on the often-cited mantra, "fake it till you make it," provides a refreshing perspective. For her, this isn't about projecting a false sense of self, but rather a conscious decision to grow into a version of oneself that is "authentically desired and authentically possible."
Our leaders, both public and private, are constantly under scrutiny, and Wiseman believes people can sense inauthenticity. Be it in the corporate world or the political arena, leaders reveal themselves over time. Authenticity might be difficult to maintain, but it's even harder to fake.
Beyond authenticity, her narrative touches on the transformative power of leadership. Drawing from her 17 years at Oracle, Wiseman challenges the traditional "great man" model of leadership, which emphasizes the charisma and vision of a single leader. Instead, she believes in assessing leadership through its impact on others. To her, employees are the "customers" of leadership, and a leader's brilliance is measured by the extent to which they allow others to shine.
Wiseman's perspective on leadership was cultivated during her tenure at Oracle, where she worked closely with its renowned leader, Larry Ellison. While media narratives often depict Ellison as a mercurial leader, Wiseman's relationship with him underscored the importance of trust. Entrusted with the daunting task of restructuring her team, Wiseman felt both empowered and challenged.
Ellison’s leadership was about having faith in his executives, letting them learn, breathe, and sometimes falter. But this style, while effective for Ellison, was not always beneficial when emulated by others. Wiseman warns of the dangers of mimicry, citing "Larry lookalikes" who imitate visionary leaders without grasping the essence of their methods.
Amidst these tales of tech giants, it’s Wiseman's quieter anecdotes that illustrate what she values and has learned about leadership, including one involving an early career hiccup at Oracle. Facing a technical glitch during a presentation, Wiseman was gracefully saved by Bob McCormick, a judge at the event. Instead of highlighting her mistake, he gave her a second chance. It was a simple act, yet it left an indelible mark on Wiseman, "I've never forgotten that little moment of grace and a little moment of teaching and kindness.”
Such stories underscore the importance of chances – both given and taken. It's not just about waiting for an opportunity but seizing it with both hands. And sometimes, it's the smaller acts, like McCormick's, that leave the most profound impact.
Transitioning from leadership to personal growth, Wiseman has been diving deep into the world of "impact players" — individuals who make significant contributions irrespective of the circumstances or their leaders. Driven by an interaction during a workshop at Salesforce, she started exploring what sets these individuals apart. How do they function differently? What makes them tick? This research, she shared, will soon manifest as her next big project.
Liz Wiseman’s philosophy isn't about pushing employees to burnout or having a singular visionary to navigate modern challenges. It's about embracing multiple perspectives, creating spaces for others to flourish, and, crucially, understanding that at the heart of every organization, people make the difference.