When I was growing up, most people had no clue who the big deal CEOs were in this country.  In some cases, it would have been a fair bet to assume that people didn’t even know who the CEO was of the company they worked for.  In those days (and it wasn’t that long ago), it didn’t really matter. No one talked about culture or corporate values then.  As for leadership style? Forget about it! 

Today we know many CEOs like they’re superstars. Steve Jobs, for instance. Donald Trump, of course. Meg Whitman, surely.  How about Tony Hsieh? The CEO of the online shoe giant, Zappos?  Unless you read business books like I do, you may not know his name. But you certainly know his influence. He’s the one whose leadership style has infused his company’s culture with excitement, positivity, and over-the-top customer service.

Ever since Steve Jobs died last year, a trend among leaders has been to ask themselves, “How can I be more like Jobs so I can have the success that Apple is experiencing?”  Believe me, only Steve Jobs could pull off being Steve Jobs. If you tried some of his less popular but nonetheless effective behaviors, you’d risk losing your talent – not to mention your customers – or maybe coming off as downright mean.

You might not want to be like Tony Hsieh either.  Oh, he’s very nice and deeply authentic as a wonderful, inspiring leader. (In fact, you can read my interview with him in You Unstuck.) But you may not be in a position to let your salespeople chat at length with an indecisive customer, only to not close a sale at the end of the marathon call.  That works for Zappos, but it might not work for you or me.

But here’s what you can do: You can be yourself. This is the only way you can deeply and authentically connect with both your employees and your customers. And inspire them to buy.

No one can tell you how to be you except you, of course. But if you’ve been busy adapting the behaviors of your favorite CEO (or if you haven’t thought about it at all), I can help you walk yourself back to your authentic self. These steps will help you uncover what I call your Leadership DNA – that code that is uniquely you and that no one else can copy.

  1. Study your company’s values statement, like you’ve never seen it before. If you’ve been with your company for a year or so, it’s likely that the values statement has lost its freshness, and has faded into the background like white noise or easy listening music.  If you’re a business owner, write or rewrite your values statement – in people speak, not corporate jargon.
  2. Ask yourself what specific behaviors bring the values statement to life – not only for your customers but also for your employees. How far are you willing to go to make that statement real for all your stakeholders? Do those behaviors even feel natural to you? Or would it be like putting on a costume?
  3. Discuss the values statement with your trusted staff, colleagues and even some hand-picked customers.  How far do you want to go to bring those values to life, when it comes to working with each other or serving your customers?  How far do they expect each other to go?  What do they tell you that they need from you to feel supported to consistently deliver the quality of work that you are looking for?  Are you willing to take your leadership behaviors and style that far? (If you think this might be a silly question, imagine the Apple staff telling Steve Jobs, “We want you to be nicer.”)

Being a leader these days is more than just driving your team to deliver a product or service that’s consistent with your company’s brand promise.  It’s about modeling behaviors and a personal style that will inspire your people to take personal initiative to fulfill your company’s best vision.

When you do this exercise thoughtfully and with specific intention, you will be connecting with your customers and employees in a deeply authentic, inspiring and sustainable way.  And then it will be your Leadership DNA that will be the stuff of stories and legend for generations to come.

Photo by Andy Hayes.