There’s a character in the Netflix hit House of Cards named Francis Underwood. He’s an extremely successful politician and things often go his way. What we discover while watching him operate, however, is that he employs an audacious amount of manipulation to get his way. And people learn not to get IN his way, or they’ll find themselves kicked out of political office, humiliated beyond words, or even shoved to death in front of the subway.
While Francis is the poster child for extreme manipulation, less obvious manipulators are all around us. In fact, my radar for manipulators and hypocrites is robust. When I sense someone operating through the filter of “what’s in it for me,” I instantly recognize that they are hiding their true intentions. Manipulators seek their own best interests while pretending they seek yours. Don’t confuse this trait with interpersonal savvy or discernment; they are very different.
When I meet a manipulator, my guard goes up while my trust goes down. And it takes a lot for that initial perception to change, thanks to my brain’s mirror neurons that are hard at work.
Can you spot manipulators? How do they make you feel?
Before we judge too harshly, consider that manipulators often operate out of fear. Their deception is a tool to manage their (perhaps unrecognized) insecurity. For whatever reason, they believe the only way to succeed is to manipulate people and circumstances. Success, in their minds, is “to win.”
On the other hand, what does success look like to an authentic leader?
Authentic leaders seek results, not victory. Unlike manipulators, authentic leaders build relationships; they don’t use relationships. Once they determine the results they want, authentic leaders focus on relationships to achieve them.
Developing mutually beneficial relationships, in fact, is a key attribute of successful leaders. Here’s how you can follow their lead:
- Get real. Authenticity and transparency go a long way in connecting people. It’s okay to bring your sensitive or funny or vulnerable side to work.
- Be discerning. Being real doesn’t mean naively sharing all of yourself with all those around you. Authentic leaders not only want but need two-way, win-win relationships to influence others. That’s why they reciprocate with people in their circles of influence who reveal their authentic selves.
- Reward others. Results-oriented, relationship-focused leaders are energized, not threatened, by others’ success. Think of someone you’ve worked with who got excited when you succeeded. I’ll bet you get a good feeling and even a smile thinking about that person now. Be that kind of leader! Act in such a way that when others think of you, they remember how jazzed you were when they accomplished something.
- Listen carefully. Take time to understand what other people need and want from you and/or your organization. Then intentionally endeavor to meet their needs, as much as possible. Tell the truth with compassion and clarity as you discuss expectations and constraints that could impact their success.
An authentic leader takes time and focuses attention on these steps to achieve results for themselves, their colleagues and their company. Be that leader.
And if it’s your leader who is a manipulator, there are strategies to help you manage the relationship and protect your integrity. You can only control how you choose to lead, and I sincerely hope it’s with authenticity.
Your turn: What one-sided relationships are keeping you from being an authentic leader? Do they need to change or do you?