#062 Authentic leadership without fluff with Mette Johansson

#062 Authentic leadership without fluff with Mette Johansson

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Episode Transcript

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Hi, everyone. Welcome to how to live, a podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I'm your host, Sharad Lal. This is episode 62.

Today we are tackling a topic that's everywhere. Authentic leadership. But let's be real. Authenticity is probably the most misused word in the world. So what really is authenticity? Is it really authentic to snap at someone and be angry. Or to lead a team without genuine belief in the mission. Is putting family photos in our work presentations authentic, or is it trying too hard? Let's dig into these questions and a lot more. With an awarded speaker author. Coach and social entrepreneur, Mette, Johansson. Mette has worked in leadership roles across Asia and Europe for 15 years before founding MetaMind, a consultancy that helps create authentic leaders. Her clients include Pfizer, Citibank, Airbnb, and a wisdom has been featured everywhere from Harper's Bazaar to Strait Times. In today's chat. We keep it real. We dig into what authenticity really means. Handling forks in the road. Elon Musk, Steve jobs. Authenticity and social media values, purpose, and a lot more. But before getting to the episode. 

Thank you very much for supporting the podcast. Folks in 1 25 countries, listen to our podcast and we're in the top 5% of the world. Do consider following us. And if you love the show, Please do rate us. Thank you in advance. Now here's the conversation with the inspirational Mette Johansson.

Sharad Lal: Good morning, Mette. Welcome to the How to Live podcast. Where do we find you this morning?

Mette Johansson: I'm in Dubai.

Sharad Lal: Wonderful to have you in the podcast Mette and congratulations on all the success you've had. I know you worked in the corporate world for 15 years, and now you're an entrepreneur helping leaders be more authentic. Maybe call the elephant in the room when we talk about authenticity. Now, of course, it's extremely important. But the word authenticity often gets misused. let's start with what is authentic leadership and what isn't authentic leadership.

Mette Johansson: Absolutely. Authenticity is one of these things that is on every executive or life coach's lips. We talk about it a lot. We see it in social media. And when I see it being described, I realized how much misunderstanding there is about what is authenticity and what is not. And that's where we need to start.

If we talk about authentic leadership. And let me start with what is authenticity For instance, if I'm angry I have this with coaches all the time. Meta, I was angry, so I showed my anger. My team messed up. You're all about authenticity. Yes, I was authentic. No, this is not necessarily being authentic.

 You can manage your emotions. It's called emotional intelligence to all of this. Your outside world has to reflect the inside world. Not to the extent that you are being angry with other people and you start shouting at them. That is not what authenticity is about. Or another example, a lot of people, they will introduce themselves.

 I am Meta Johansson. I'm an expert in authenticity. I'm a consultant on leadership and culture transformation, and I'm a parent of two. Does it make you authentic to share what you do outside of work? No, absolutely not. You're a speaker Sharad? And I have seen very often that speakers, they will attempt to make themselves authentic and then show a picture of themselves camping, in their gardens, whatever it is.

Mette Johansson: Does that make you authentic? No, it does not. It shows you have different roles in your life that you might be a parent, you might have a nice family, or you might not. What does that picture say? You could have the biggest row, the biggest fight with your entire family over breakfast, and then show that picture.

That's not making you authentic. And one more example that I'd like to use that comes up quite regularly as well when I have these discussions is what about when I'm an introvert? Yeah, I prefer to stay inside in my office and I don't really want to go to those town hall meetings and have that rah rah on stage.

I'm not that kind of leader. I don't want to speak to my people. Sorry. Leadership is about inspiring others. It is about sharing the vision, the strategy. Communication is a big part of it. And you need to go up on stage and share this. Or in front of people in a meeting room.

you have that role of taking care of other people. And speaking up is important, even if you're an introvert. And let's have a look. If you do those Meyer Briggs type indicator personality tests, we don't necessarily score a hundred percent introversion.

If we call ourselves introverts, or if the test scores is introversion, it might be 83 percent introversion. That means that you have those 17 percent of extroversion to draw upon when you, as a leader, need to go out and inspire your teams. So those are a couple of points of what is authenticity.


 You've really got to the heart of the discussion, and I'm so glad we've got it early. And I want to double click on three of those scenarios that you talked about. One was on emotions having what you have inside, bringing it outside is not necessarily authentic. So let's start there.

Sharad Lal: How does authenticity come in letting people know or expressing our emotions? What is the way to do it where we're still authentic?

 but at the same time, we're not crossing the line where there's respect or anything else.

Mette Johansson: it's a very interesting topic because emotional intelligence is not about Showing others what your emotions are it is about acknowledging it yourself I'm not saying that we need to hide our emotions and the awareness is good now if it is an emotion that negatively affects others That is when we have to be careful.

If it is an emotion that positively affects others, like I am passionate about this, absolutely show that to the world that you're passionate about something that might rub off on other people and they might join your cause and Oh, there you go. You're a leader because other people are following you. So when it has a positive effect.

on others, then it's absolutely okay to simply show it if it has a negative effect on others. And that is as the coachee that I described just now, he was shouting at his team. That is where you have to be careful. Do not shout at people in a disrespectful way that has nothing to do with authenticity.

 Now, in fact, this particular coachee, that was the first one I had, let's call him Jack. I usually call him Jack when I'm speaking. He realized that in fact, Respect is a core value to him. Respect is really important to him. And during our coaching session, when he said I was being authentic, I asked him, so Jack, how does respect play a role in this situation? And that's when he immediately got it that he was not being respectful, although he wanted to be respectful. Authenticity is when you live your personal core values, those concepts and principles that absolutely core to you. If you live them congruently and

 I love that definition You talked about authenticity is living your core values. And I think the step one, and we've talked about it a few times in the podcast, but we'd love to understand from you, how do we figure out, people listening, what our core values are?

 Often, we have an intuitive understanding of what is important to us, people who have not done exercises or gone through coaching on finding their personal core values, they might not immediately be able to Share them with others, they might not be able to put those labels on it like wisdom, nurturing, respect, professionalism, whatever it is that these labels are with a couple of exercises, we can very quickly surface, what are these core principles, these words that might be your values.

 I do this exercise in almost all my coaching, my leadership training, because I find that it's a very good way of getting that self awareness that is needed. How can we be authentic? How we can be, how can we be that genuine self? How can we be us? How can you be you if you don't have that self awareness?

Mette Johansson: So that's where we start. I ask 10 different questions and usually I can hear from what people are sharing. The questions I ask are such things as, What were your childhood dreams? Or, What is a defining moment in your life? When did you have to take difficult decisions? These kind of questions, they point towards, What is important to you?

When we had to take a difficult decision, that's because different values were at play. One value thought, Oh, we have to go this way. The other value thinks we have to go that way. And when that clashes, that is when it's tough to take a decision. And that's where values and the awareness of your own personal core values will help you.

Sharad Lal: difficult question is such a good one, because that's when the trade off of values happen. And like you said, you have a series of questions. So if I understand right with the series of questions, folks start seeing the trends they have. In how they react to situations, what they dream about, where they've had peak experiences and putting those trends together starts giving you a good sense of, Hey, these four or five things are really important to me.

And once you have a sense of those values, that's when living your values is being authentic. That's the best definition we have of being authentic.

Mette Johansson: Exactly. And what I would like to add on to what you said, yes, when we answer these questions, there might be a trend, there might be a theme that we're discovering. Now it's even better for other people to listen. We often don't hear those themes ourselves. When I do this as a group exercise, I hear all around the room, some consistent descriptions of what pops up.

 It might be family, it might be nurturing, it might be empowering, it might be wisdom, it might be professionalism, respect, integrity and honesty is one of the things that comes up very often. So yes, all of these different values, the themes. They're often better heard by people who are not answering the questions, who are simply observing, listening for those red threads, the themes that are coming up

Sharad Lal: So if we have a starting sense of our values, how do we move through life by updating them, clarifying them? What would you recommend we do so that we stay authentic to them?

Mette Johansson: on a daily basis. Simply reflect upon how did I live my life today? Was I being true to those core values? And if not, What can I do better tomorrow? It's as simple as that. You don't have to carve out time from your busy schedule. It's simply about when you're anyway, I don't know, taking a shower, doing that commute, spend those few minutes on self reflecting of thinking about how did I live my values today?

And how can I live them even better tomorrow, when you do that, you will also potentially discover that there's something else that you hadn't paid attention to earlier. There's something coming up because there's a pattern of, it was so difficult to do this. Although I have said, this is my value. What's the reason for that?

When you start having that. Pattern recognition of what is it that is a difficult decision to take, then you'll discover that maybe there's another value at play here.

Sharad Lal: I love that. And maybe we poke a little bit more on those difficult decisions, forks in the road, which clarify your values. Do you have any story that comes to mind of someone you worked with? And we can call him Jack again on where there were different values conflicting and that gave that person a better sense of him or herself and then move forward authentically.

Mette Johansson: with this one person, I was coaching She knew that there was going to be a divestiture in her organization. She knew that would mean a lot of reorganization in the company and potentially people losing their jobs and potentially also them being sold off to a different company that might not have as big a brand as this particular company.

 then a friend of hers, a person she was close to in the company came up and said, I have this job offer. I really wonder whether I should take this. or whether I should stay with our current company. She was so conflicted of what to do. On the one hand, she had the friend that she wanted the best for him.

Mette Johansson: And on the other hand, she had her company She had signed to have confidentiality and one of her core values was loyalty. And even there, it was difficult to take that decision with the simple one value loyalty alone, because is it loyalty to my company? Is it loyalty to my friends? And looking more at what are her values? Yes, absolutely. personal part of it, her friendships, that was also more important than the professional life. And one of the ways that we found out very easily was to say, all right, imagine yourself three years in future. the divestiture has happened.

A lot of changes happens. What would you think you would feel better about? Having told your friends or not having told your friends and staying true to the company. She immediately said, of course, I need to tell my friends. I cannot be responsible for him not having the best. He has an opportunity for a different company and our future is uncertain. And she found a way of making sure to tell this friend. Listen, please don't ask me anything else. I have confidentiality. I do recommend you to take that other job. And she felt good about it. She felt good about making sure that her friend was not taking a big risk because she knew that he had a mortgage, he had a family to take care of, and the future that the company that they both work for was offering

was very uncertain.

Sharad Lal: That's such a good example, which brings out the complexities of values and how they come in touch with each other. And once you've gone through that difficulty, and maybe this lady took a few months to figure out what the right approach was. But once you've gone through it, you take the right decision and you get to know yourself better.

And that's what these difficult situations do in life.

Mette Johansson: Absolutely. And in fact, it's one of the reasons why I believe that authentic leadership is very important right now at this point of time, because over the past years we've woken up to pandemics, geopolitical tensions in Asia, war in Europe and in the Middle East, supply chain disruptions, the old playbook that we used to go with as leaders.

The rules just don't work anymore. Leading the GE way and those titles that we use to educate ourselves as leaders, they're not working anymore. So how can you lead when everything you know has changed overnight? authentic leadership is a way forward. Because what you believe in, That doesn't change overnight.

 That remains fairly stable throughout your lifetime. And that is the power of authentic leadership to make sure that you lead based on some core values and principles that will be your compass to guide you through any situation, any change that might still happen out there.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. And that gives you peace of mind that based on your values. You're being truthful and right. And it also gives people comfort that I can trust him. There's a certain principle based approach he or she is working with which works well. Now, as we know in the corporate world, if I'm going to poke a little bit there, often you're asked to go after an initiative or a project that you do not believe in.

And often part of the job is to rally your whole organization around it where you're not fully bought into it, but you need to do it. How do you bring authenticity into play in these kind of situations?

Mette Johansson: Usually there is some overlap between your core personal values and the organizational core values, and if you can focus on that, if you can find that overlap that will already put you into a different mindset. That will already help you think about the overall aim of this, I still support this, the overall outcome I still want to achieve.

Now, if it is something that's happening too often, if you find yourself doing things that even go completely against your moral definition of the world, then I cannot recommend you to continue doing it. If you cannot live your values, then you're in a wrong match. And in fact, often when I speak to HR departments who will hire me, they also voice concern.

What if there's no overlap between. The corporate values and the personal core values, what will happen? Will these people just leave? And my answer to that is yes. It's probably better for you as well, that people who are not believing in the same things as you are not in the company.

 Gallup has these engagement surveys over and over again. And sometimes it shows like 70 percent ish, 80%. Ish are disengaged at work and those are the people who are disengaged the ones where there's no overlap between the corporate values and your personal values. When there's no overlap, those are the people who just showing up at work.

Maybe they've already resigned. Maybe their husband is quiet quitting going on. You're not necessarily wanting to keep these people in the company. And this is also because if we live poor. Personal values. Often when I work with clients on defining these and writing them down, it's like our purpose comes jumping up from that paper.

When we have a few of these concepts put together on paper, our purpose almost jumps up from that paper. And what is purpose? Purpose is igniting our passion and passion. Again, It's energy and it needs to do extraordinary things to those who have found that what is that personal purpose that they're on that mission that they're on based on their values, they will have so much more energy to do extraordinary things.

And if that is in that overlap between professional or corporate values and personal values, these people will be on fire to fulfill your corporate mission and vision.

Sharad Lal: What a wonderful point.when you're working for a company, you're also working for the values of that company. So it's not just you as an individual. And that's why it's important to see what you as an individual bring in, what the company brings in and where does that converge.

And that's where you focus in. you pointed out very nicely that once you find that sweet spot where you and the company converge, you can also go ahead, not only live authentically, but find a deeper purpose and go on to do remarkable things. So I want to dig a little bit more about purpose since it's come up and I think you've defined it, but we'll go deeper.

What does purpose mean to you and how have you seen it come to life at work for people?

Mette Johansson: Purpose is about wanting to do something for the greater good. Purpose is about you get up in the morning and there's meaning to your life. You believe in what you were set out to do, or at least you have found your little mission that you want to go out. You get up in the morning and you want to make that difference.

It can be a small difference to your environment, and it can also be a purpose for the greater good that's very big. 

Unfortunately, we have quite a few leaders who have narcissistic trends. It shows that the C suite have much more narcissists than the rest of the population. And that's where the purpose for the greater me might sometimes take over. It is about this purpose for the greater good.

 earlier in our pre chat we discussed, about leaders like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, who are extremely effective once in a generation. change the world, but may not necessarily be respectful or fully authentic. What are your thoughts on this type of leadership and how it plays out?

 You mentioned Steve Jobs, Elon Musk. Those are two personalities with huge followings. They have big fan groups out there. Are they less authentic for potentially not respecting people?

Steve Jobs was known to be choleric and shout at people. We all know in public what Elon Musk did. Not the best way of firing people in my opinion. Other companies have done it With much more tact than he has, does it make him inauthentic? Now, if you go back and look at their why, look at their purpose, look at their values, it does seem like they are following a certain set of values.

Now, Elon Musk, he wanted to disrupt the world. He wanted to have a more sustainable world. He has potentially more leadership skills that he can further refine that he hasn't been refining because he didn't have a need to. Is that an excuse for us to be? As disrespectful as these two leaders. No, they were the exceptions with great ideas, great drive to make innovations work.

It's not an excuse for you or I to be a bad leader. We still need to refine those leadership skills. It's not like we're born in one defined way and we cannot further develop it. No, authenticity is not about staying as you were born because then we could not walk and not talk. It is also about becoming the best version of ourselves right as leaders.

So are they authentic? Yes, absolutely, because they are living by some principles that they have to find for themselves. Are they the best leaders? Maybe they have some scope for improvement.

Sharad Lal: it reminds me of Dostoyevsky. I don't know if you've read crime and punishment and the kind of theory he put forward where he talks about a group of people who are so exceptional that the laws don't apply for them. So then they can do anything. And he explores that area of philosophy, which I found interesting.

I don't have a clear answer for it, but it's in that land.

Mette Johansson: I have read that many years ago, so I prefer not to give too many details about it. But yes, that is absolutely the point. It is it is not necessarily being authentic if you're focusing on yourself and you allowing to do everything that you deem fit. As most authenticity experts say, it is about also purpose.

It is about values,in all our definitions of authenticity, there needs to be this respect for others as well as part of it. 

 Mehta, you touched upon that earlier, where there are some common values. When you talk to people in the room, almost everyone had one or two values. And I would put respect as one of those common values for humanity. 

Absolutely. Respect to me is about making sure that we make an effort to respect other people's wants and needs. Microsoft, I believe, it's about respecting that other people bring different perspectives to the table. So it's similar, of course, it's not necessarily the same.

 I want to go back to the second point you talked about earlier when we talked about what isn't authentic. And you'd spoken about people putting photos of their family showing parts, of their private life when it's not necessarily needed. And that is like a cue for being authentic.

Sharad Lal: So I'd love for you to talk about that more and help share with us what is the way to think about that.

 When I do the exercise that I mentioned to you earlier about asking a set of 10 questions. Where the answers are revealing to those who have practice, what are your core values? and I do this in corporate life, very often in a group setting, sometimes I get the feedback of, Ooh, isn't that?

Mette Johansson: I like to describe it as it is personal, but it's not necessarily private. When I ask you, what were your childhood dreams? You're probably quite happy to share. I wanted to be an astronaut or I wanted to be a gardener. I wanted to be a chef, a famous chef. A lot of people are sharing that and they don't mind sharing it.

So it's not private. Private is related to the different roles you have in your life with different people where you have a confidential relationship. That you're not necessarily sharing with other people. So that is private. Personal is when it goes deeper. When it is about what's important to you, your values, your purpose.

 And why would you be hiding what is important to you? What is your purpose? If you want to inspire other people as a leader, then this is the purpose that I'm set out on. And I would love you to follow me too. Go on this mission, reach this vision. Why would you keep that private, personal, secret? No, this is personal, but it's not necessarily private. So share your personal values.

 Love that distinction. And that, can help people get some amount of a framework on how to think about this. The third thing that you touched upon there, let's double click on it, is that you might say you're an introvert, so why do you as a leader have to go up and speak, and you said that yes, you need to speak because that's part of the job, and there's a spectrum of you part of you which may not necessarily be an introvert.

Sharad Lal: So how do introverts figure out what that spectrum is, and how do they access it, so they can do what leaders need to do, go out and speak.

 Of course, the MBTI, Myers Briggs Type Indicator test, personality test is out there. There's free versions available. Now, being a 90 percent introvert is a very strong Introvert score. it is again back to use a 10 percent to make sure that you have also energy left to go and speak to other people.

Mette Johansson: You might be drained afterwards, which is what introversion and extroversion is about. It's to the extent to what you're energized with people, or it drains you. What I have found as somebody I'm an ending word. I'm smack in the middle and still, I love speaking. to people. I love having public speeches.

I love going on podcasts like you because I have a mission that I'm on. I want more people to be the best versions of themselves. And I can't achieve that by simply sitting in my room and not sharing anything with the world. Of course I can do it through my books. Now it does help if I go out and I share this with the world.

When I focus on this part, this is the difference I'm making today by speaking up in front of the audience. That is when I walk away more energized, although I'm an ambivert, and that means that it shouldn't be energizing to me to be in front of people. It is energizing to me, and that is focusing on the difference that I can make.

 And that's what I've worked with also with a dozen leaders who they are not really keen on being in front of an audience. And those are some of the top leaders in Asia Pacific that I've worked with when they realize that they can focus on. What is it that they're doing in that situation? What can they achieve?

Mette Johansson: What is the outcome? What's in it for the audience? When they focus on that, they change, and they're much happier to go in front of an audience.

 Love that. When you take it and anchor it on a purpose. Which is deep to you, the difference that you're making, that gives you a different level of energy. So even if you're an introvert, you can get that because you know that's the way you can spread your message and you're living your purpose. I love that's very empowering

Sharad Lal: as we talk about social media, now we know the algorithms are there to take things that are dramatized. So often we might take authenticity and say, all right, what's the version of authenticity? Maybe it's being vulnerable. Maybe it's being a victim and telling a personal story and putting it out there.

And that gets us the reach that we're looking at. So how do you look at authenticity and social media and just being heard and getting the algorithm to, get your voice out there? 

Mette Johansson: of this is how Hasan Minhaj got a lot of criticism for stretching the truth with a story a little bit. Hasan Minhaj is a comedian, leading comedian with his Netflix shows in the U. S. And he had put a couple of situations together and made a story out of this. And then he was blamed for lying about a situation to get empathy for racism.

Or he was lying about racism. Now, What is the environment in which you're sharing stories?

Is it for the drama effect? Are we stretching the truth a little bit? I will leave it up to people's individuals, values and principles to decide for themselves.

 personally, I cannot recommend to completely be dishonest. Stretching the truth. We know that everybody does that. It's up to you where that little bit of where that area of honesty is, and when I say stretching the truth before somebody catches me on that and say, Oh, matter, you've got to be honest because that's a core principle of authenticity.

 Let me share this research that I did on lying. I found two main studies when I looked into this first a handful of years ago. One study says that we lie between zero and one times a day. The other study said that we lie. 22 times a day. difference?

Sharad Lal: A day.

Mette Johansson: 22 times a day. The difference when it said that it was zero to one time, it was self reporting.

And guess what? The study that said it was 22 times a day. That was people being recorded and other people analyzing how many times that this person lied. And those are the white lies, as we call it, to not offend other people, honey, do I look good in this dress? You're not going to say no, honey, you look fat.

That is brutal honesty, and we don't necessarily want it. So yes, there is a great area of honesty and dishonesty about making sure that we can live in harmony together without upsetting other people too much.

Sharad Lal: That study reminds me of that funny question where you ask someone, do you lie? And the only logical answer is no. From a logic standpoint, it cannot be yes. So it's a very interesting that you brought that study out. Moving on Meta, we talk about authenticity. How can authenticity help in growth? 

Mette Johansson: Is there any work that shows that, authenticity can actually lead to growth? Or is it something that just helps us feel good about ourselves, that we're living with our values?there's anecdotal data that some people are very successful by being authentic. And if we can take Microsoft, if we take Satya Nadella, he's focused a lot on people. I believe that his personality shines through. It's very difficult to have overall studies of, is it authenticity that makes a company more profitable or not I would rather say it is about that. We want to feel good and more and more people in younger generations. They don't just want a job. They want to wake up and make a difference in the world. So we're talking about purpose. And that again is derived from values, meaning that if you want to be successful as a leader, and you would like to be more energetic and you would like to inspire people with your vision.

 And those are some very good arguments that authenticity works. 

Mette Johansson: I work with so many who are just about to quit their corporate careers, leaders who've already achieved quite a bit. And they're asking themselves all of a sudden, Is this it? I'm climbing the corporate ladder. I have responsibility for a large region or a large functional area. And is this really it?

This is what I set out to do. They want more. They very often want more in life. And that is where you have that self awareness about who am I, what am I set out to do or what do I want to do? When you unleash that energy that is based on your values, your purpose, what you really want to be doing, you are more effective and you're attracting other people who believe in the same things.

And that's when it's multiplied.

Sharad Lal: Mehta, we've talked about so many topics. 

Mette Johansson: Is there any last parting thought that you'd like to bottom line and leave listeners with?

 It is back to if you want to be authentic, take that time to reflect upon what is truly important to you. What is the difference you want to make in the world, whether it's as a leader, that you want to be a better leader to your people, or whether there is a task that you want to set out and change the world with.

 whatever it is, when you do that, you will feel more energized and you will feel better about yourself and you can inspire others to follow you.

 Thank you Mette for inspiring me and so many others. Congratulations on all the good work you're doing and wish you all the very best.

 Thank you very much for having me.

 Thank you Mette for such an enlightening conversation for more and Mette. Check out the show notes. Here's an action step. All of us could consider. I think about a difficult folk in the road for you. Visualize that moment. What were the choices in front of you? How did you consider them? What decision did you make? What does this tell you about yourself? 

 Did you uncover any value? 

How can you take this and make it part of your authentic leadership? Best of luck. I hope you enjoyed this episode. The next episode will drop two weeks from now on March 12th. Do join us for that. Till next time. I have a wonderful day ahead. Bye bye.