I’d like to think that if people were to describe me, they would suggest that I have a strong moral compass. The final part of my solution to you, to be a leader even if you are the only one in the team, is, to Be True. Be authentic to yourself and those who follow you.

I once worked in a very toxic workplace. This place is really bad. I mean, if I was to die there and then went straight to hell, it would take me at least two weeks to realise that I wasn’t at work anymore. I’m asked to lead a team of 10 people who are insular, jaded and antagonistic to anyone and anything that is not part of their bubble.

I’m on a selection panel for a position – in this workplace. The incumbent for the position is well liked by the people in my team and is a good quality applicant for the job. When the job is advertised, however, another applicant is also good for the job but by a considerably greater margin than the incumbent. As a panel, we make the decision to appoint the outsider and not the incumbent.

When the decision is released, I’m immediately ostracised. All 10 of my team walk out on me. When I walk into the office, they walk out. I can handle this. I had made all these milestones. An amazing partner and marriage, great kids, a sergeant by 25 (the youngest sergeant in the Qld Police at the time) and I was promoted to senior sergeant before 30.  It wasn’t until my wife tells me I need to see my doctor and I mindlessly drive through two red lights on the way to the surgery that I realise that I am back in that laneway surrounded by the bullies. Everything comes flooding back and I’m overwhelmed.

I sought therapy and medication to assist, but this time I also used some of my own strategies.

I made the commitment to lead myself out of this quagmire. I learned more about myself, I inspired myself and I stayed true to myself. My team doesn’t want to follow me anymore. I can no longer be their leader. Even though I, alone, hadn’t made the decision not to promote the person that my team believed should get the job, they can no longer follow me. I know the panel’s decision is the right one. After a year of the new person starting it is well and truly evident that the panel had made the right choice. In fact, all ten in my team, with the exception of one, apologise to me for their behaviour 12 months after this incident.

This workplace though isn’t the best fit for me. Sometimes, things don’t work out. But that doesn’t mean I’m stopping. I make a choice to commit. I am going to lead myself. I move to another job. I have the opportunity to lead, to learn, to communicate and inspire but above all, I am being true to myself. I move from leading a team of 10, to leading a team of 50 along with 300-400 police recruits at the same time. I go from leading a team that can’t be in the same room as me to leading several teams that strategically plan their holidays to make sure they can work with me.

Howard Schultz, a transformational leader who kicked off the U.S.’s second coffee revolution as CEO of Starbucks, was an employee-focused leader who focused on authenticity. He said, ‘mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.’ This goes as much for customers if not more so for employees.
This story and the advice of Schultz reminds us that when we remain true and live our values, they are immediately reflected in our actions and how people view us. There are all sorts of sayings for this, ‘practice what you preach’, ‘walk the talk’, ‘lead by example’, ‘suit your actions to your words’, etc. For me, my suggestion to you is much more simple and direct. ‘Be true’. Shakespeare’s character Polonius in Hamlet perhaps said it best. This above all; to thine own self be true.

Shane Mallory

Shane is a performer, emcee, host, communicator, creative, mentor and innovative theatre director. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland with his wife Natalie, who are almost 'empty nesters' providing a home for their two daughters' dog and two cats.


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