Authentic Leadership: Find Your Voice and Promote Your Team

Nicki Creech
Nicki Creech, Executive Coach and BMW Leadership Development Leader

“Talk less. Let your work speak for itself.” A colleague once told me that. It seemed like good advice at the time. I was new in a job, proposing some radical change and my passion easily translated into forcefulness. It was great, “put your head down and try to fit in here” kind of advice. Then I heard this.

“Women don’t promote themselves. We expect people to see what we are doing and reward us for what we are doing because of the results. We don’t ask for what we need to be paid. We don’t ask for the promotions we deserve. We don’t ask for the resources we need. It’s human nature, we are nurturers. But the thing is if we don’t look out for us and our people, no one else will.”

I had an “Oh fudge” (and not the clean version) moment. My work may speak for itself, but it is not out there cheerleading.

The new words of wisdom came from Nicki Creech, executive coach for BMW worldwide. She was getting ready to open the Furman University Center for Innovative Leadership’s new series and she agreed to sit down with me for a pre-event chat. I had volunteered to cover it, and let me be transparent here, there was an element of selfishness. Free coaching.

I’d consider myself a “new” leader. Most of my career was in the individual sport of news reporting. Four years ago, I was offered the opportunity to build and lead a marketing and communications department at the City of Greenville. We’ve grown to a staff of fourteen. I’m still struggling with the transition from “doer” to “teacher.” I asked for advice.

“One of the hardest jobs is when we have been a subject matter expert in something and we are asked to lead people, and not to be the subject matter expert but develop them to be the subject matter expert,” Creech said. “It is hard to let go of what worked for you and not believe that should work for everyone else.”

Next question: girl bosses. “Do women feel more pressure to be assertive,” (she starts laughing before I complete the question) “or to act stronger so they can appear authoritative?”

“It is very easy,” she says, “for women to believe they have to adopt this persona of the male boss, because that is what seems to be respected and promoted. Maybe you are successful in wearing the persona, but you are exhausted at the end of the day because it is not who you are. Women need to work on being authentic and understand what will work for them and promote themselves and not apologize.”

Be authentic. Don’t apologize. Focus on what you can control.

Members of the City's Communications Team present to South Carolina chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.

“I can control my own actions. My own attitudes, my behavior, so I’m influencing others and they trust me. We grow from there,” she says. “We can’t change what society does, but I can be a great role model for what it is supposed to be.”

“The best part of being 51 years old is that I have a lot of experience I can reflect on and grow from,” Creech says to the 47-year-old woman across from her who feels far less wise, but is now inspired to be more thoughtful in her approach to passing on “what worked for me” and knowing it may work differently for employees.

“People are our most valuable resource and the type of leader they have can completely impact how they do their job and how much they enjoy their job,” Creech says.

I’ve started trying out some of her suggestions already. A tip to ask employees if they would like to know how I would solve a problem, or what my experience has taught me, rather than pushing “this is the way I would do it.” I’m also trying to be aware of when I am “taking over” a task or assignment, when providing gentle guidance and being patient will allow team members to learn and grow.

I’m giving a presentation to my peers tomorrow about our department and its core values and functions. I had not planned to be a cheerleader, because I didn’t want to come across as arrogant. I asked Creech for advice, and she said, “Give them data.” So, I’m going to show and TELL. I’m not bringing pompoms, but I’m going to let my passion do its thing.

Thanks for the nudge, Nicki.

About the Author

Beth Brotherton

Beth Brotherton is Director of Communications and Engagement for the City of Greenville. She’s a mom to three teenage boys, a weekend warrior on a spin bike, and the lady people find when giving stray cats.
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