I’ve been doing a bit of a deep dive on performative leadership. Turns out there are actually two ways to look at this idea… two definitions if you will:
The Actor Leader - Performative leadership as the rote performance of actions that we associate with leaders
This is a “fake until you make it” strategy, and I think could actually be a reasonable starting point for new leaders. Read a book or a blog or listen to a podcast. Get a list of actions that might be ‘leader-y’ and start practicing them. We could all find a list that would fill a gap in our own credible exercise of leadership. Like cognitive behavioural therapy, practicing looking like a leader could eventually transition to being a real one. The problem is when people get stuck in this mode and repeat the actions without the substance. The example I keep running into online is about names and birthdays. Some management book somewhen said something along the lines of “show your people you care about them by learning the names of their family or their birthday and remember to use those names and say happy birthday on the right date.” So people rote memorised this trivia and used it without actually ever demonstrating they gave one damn whit about the person. So sure, do a thing that shows a personal interest… but mean it. Don’t just say you’re going to be open and transparent, actually open yourself up to criticism and tell folks stuff that might make them challenge you.
The Model Leader – Performative leadership as a way of demonstrating for peers the actions and behaviours that result in strongly engaged teams and successful outcomes
This is the “watch it, do it, teach it” path. I hope that we all have/had a chance early in our careers to watch a truly outstanding leader do their thing. I was so lucky as to have my very first Real Boss be f*in amazing – so good that only the use of strong profanity conveys how good he was. Even 30 years later, I look back at Mark and with hindsight understand his methods, his charisma and his quiet genius at leading people and take inspiration. Armed with that model in our heads, we learn how to lead… perhaps going through an Actor Leader phase but eventually gaining mastery of ourselves. But what I’m challenging some people at work to do is go to the next step. Be the inspiration for other leaders… be the Mark, the Model Leader whose actions demonstrate what it means to do the do in a challenging environment. Not only the young cubs starting their careers need these Models. I worked for a guy (Peter, this is you) who is such an animal; Even after I’d long since felt I’d attained leader mastery, his example showed me ways I can be better. Rich is challenging me to use my skills outside the business world and pushing me yet further. We all need Model Leaders, performative leaders.
And this made me of course think… well how do I take up my own challenge. What’s the area of mastery that I can model which will inspire other leaders? Man, I know what I hope. I hope I can model how you don’t have to be stuck in an 80s business book using really old school ideas.
“We become just by performing just action, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave action.” ~ Aristotle
“Good leaders must communicate vision clearly, creatively, and continually. However, the vision doesn't come alive until the leader models it.” ~ John C. Maxwell