Let’s Talk About Leadership Swagger!
When I started my career and took my first few steps to climb the corporate ladder I was like a bull in a china shop. I was a fighter…very direct and charged into every situation ready to take the hill and didn’t worry about the casualties that resulted along the way. I thought it was okay to be tough and driven especially if I was going to prove myself in a male dominated industry like Information Technology (IT).
I thought I was well on my way to my own bad-ass version of swagger!
At the time…executives at the top of the companies I had worked for had swagger but didn’t seem to execute much…I was going to be different and redefine what swagger was!
What was puzzling to me about most executives in corporate America was that everyone seemed…
- drawn to them and just knew when they entered the room
- bewitched by their perfect balance of confidence and arrogance
- hung on their every word
- praised them
- in awe of the amount of money they made…the car they drove…the house they lived in…etc..
- envious of how well they dressed
- entranced by how well-spoken they were
….but I felt they lacked the knowledge, drive and passion that I was looking for in a leader. In some ways I felt they were frauds (I know…harsh...but I have mellowed with time I swear). I was VERY focused on driving forward and proving that not only did I have swagger but that I could “Get stuff done” too!
SO….you can already tell that this story ended poorly for me. It all culminated into my first 360 review where peers and supervisors gave me some very direct, honest messaging that my style needed to be adjusted to be more collaborative, gentle and less forceful. It was tough for me to get this feedback because I really felt that everyone should have known that my intentions were honorable and that I was just doing what I felt was right for us all to be successful. I didn’t have time to slow down, make other people feel appreciated and good about what we were doing…we just had to do it…suck it up buttercup!
Thus began my first real journey of personal change. Unlike my change program around weight loss years later (check out "Change" )…this was a process that began from the inside and was less physically visible to others.
It meant I had to….
- slow down
- be more understanding
- find time to build relationships
- incorporate other people’s point of view and just smile more
- get rid of the serious, “chip on my shoulder - I have something to prove” attitude
It has taken me almost 25 years to get where I am today and I am at a point that I don’t even realize I am constantly smiling or telling jokes to make people laugh even in situations where smiling or laughing is probably not appropriate. I have changed “the story”, broken the bad habits and created new habits. Having said that, I have had more than one instance now a days where I have been called out for smiling or laughing too much and given feedback that this may be effecting my credibility as a leader. A great example of “what got you here won’t get you there”. But that's a blog for another day...
So while I don’t regret the work I have done to improve myself as a leader or as a contributor to a company’s success…
I still don’t think I ever figured out how to get “Swagger” of my own or what the secret ingredients are under which someone might get it. You might say that I am envious of those that DO have it!
The closest I came to figuring it out was….
1. Swagger has many names ….
A very good friend of mine and mentor…put it into the starkest context for me and I have never forgotten it. While crude…it is remarkably effective. He said…”Marcie…to be honest with you…and you aren’t going to like this….you are not going to get invited to most meetings…get a say…or a seat at the table…because quite frankly you are not a player…you know…a “swinging d$ck”. It has also been referred to as being in the “old boys club”. While I am sure there are others you have heard over the years….it does permeate throughout different places in corporate America and while we talk about it under our breath I don’t know that we ever really give it a name or address it in leadership training or preparation.
2. What does that really mean?
Those with swagger at the top of organizations are an elite group and they invite people in very selectively and based on something they see in them…some potential…real or implied.
By the way…it’s important to note…that swagger applies to women and men alike
Sometimes swagger has to do with physical presence…a way with words…personal charisma or charm…where you went to school…your position in society, money or access to events or powerful people…or some combination of the above. The question is how do you break in or qualify for it or does it just come naturally?
3. How do you even attempt to get there?
I would be remiss if I did not admit that I have tried a couple of times over the years to define and showcase my own version of swagger….all the while remembering the “bull in the china shop” past I came from.
I think it has to do with…
Balancing personal charisma, confidence, knowledge, relationships, executive presence in achieving and maintaining positions of power within an organization
For me…it all came down to ensuring I was physically and mentally tough enough to climb the next rung on the ladder. At one point it meant running and exercising every week kept my stamina, my stress levels, my energy levels and overall health in check. The writing every week helped me to clarify my thoughts on leadership, who I am, who I wanted to be and what I believe in. I paid attention to what I wore…how I looked…who I interacted with…how I interacted with them…how I could help others with swagger be more successful and I secured an executive coach each time to support my efforts. Sometimes though…you run into a wall within an organization where your swagger does not match those above you. It’s not that it takes anything away from your swagger…it may just mean you need to restart somewhere new and redefine it yet again.
So….To Sum it All Up…..
I believe I have made my peace that despite best efforts…I can’t manufacture the version of swagger in the way I dreamed it would be…it is too hard and I can’t make it natural or built to last…I do recognize it in others…where it fits in an organization and how to leverage it for the overall good of the team…it just won’t be my role…and that’s ok!
Once I stopped comparing my swagger to the C-Level role… look…and feel of others…and focused on just being me…I finally felt more content....successful and comfortable with who I am. In the end…finding the swagger that is true to YOU…is probably the most important swagger of all!
…oh…and a really nice pair of cowboys boots helps too!
Leadership questions of the week for YOU:
- All the leadership articles talk about Emotional Quotient (EQ), collaborating and that people want to work for someone who is inspiring – yet what often gets you to the top is swagger…a player…someone who has influence. Are the two mutually exclusive?
- We didn’t touch on it…but swagger is not a “one size fits all”. I am sure you can think of different types of people with different forms of swagger from movie stars, to politicians to heads of companies. When you think swagger – what qualities come to mind that they all have in common? If someone has swagger but doesn’t fit that mold or ideal…how do you think they achieved and maintained their swagger/success?
- What steps have you taken in your journey or what advice would you give to someone to balance being a text book leader and someone with swagger?
- Can anyone develop swagger if they put steps in place to build the relationships and influence or is it really reserved to a few who just naturally “have it”?
- How do we teach our next leaders the importance of developing swagger and what is the timing of that in someone’s career?
- How would you describe your swagger today and what you would like it to be? What steps can you put in place to start moving towards the YOU that is best for YOU?
Thanks for reading and remember....YOU make a difference!
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