An Ass found a Lion’s skin left in the forest by a hunter. He dressed himself in it, and amused himself by hiding in a thicket and rushing out suddenly at the animals who passed that way. All took to their heels the moment they saw him.

 The Ass was so pleased to see the animals running away from him, just as if he were King Lion himself, that he could not keep from expressing his delight by a loud, harsh bray. A Fox, who ran with the rest, stopped short as soon as he heard the voice. Approaching the Ass, he said with a laugh:

 “If you had kept your mouth shut you might have frightened me, too. But you gave yourself away with that silly bray.”

The point of this Aesop tale, The Ass in the Lion’s Skin, is “A fool may deceive by his dress and appearance, but his words will soon show what he really is.”


Leadership Acting versus Leadership Being

Some people are good leadership actors. They can “do their leadership thing” and deliver convincing performances. These leaders project themselves like a lion with their words, but their actions show they’re an ass. Today’s ultra-sensitive BS detectors quickly help others see who’s really beneath the skin.

We eventually see through to the real person. Skin-deep leadership destroys trust and zaps energy. People feel manipulated. They often become cynical and suspicious. In this environment, ever stronger threats or incentives are needed to “motivate” people.

Reputation is what people think I am. Personality is what I seem to be. Character is what I really am. Highly effective leaders blur the lines between the three until they are one and the same. They live life from the inside out.

On the other hand, leading from the outside in, means appearances are everything. The harder these leadership actors try to make an impression, that’s the impression they make.


Trust is More Than Skin Deep

I was once asked to deliver a workshop for a senior leadership team to “relearn/develop trust and empowerment in his/her team members when the team members feel they are not getting the trust or empowerment from their leader to do their jobs. How does a team lift this message upward, have the message heard, and get traction to move forward, to avoid the sense of being micro-managed and the feelings of lack of trust in the team members from their leader.”

Research shows that trust can be strengthened or regained. But as I explored their objectives for the session, it was clear they came to the wrong facilitator. The team wanted to learn how to dress up in trust suits, not become trustworthy. Trust was a skin to be worn like a costume.

Mistrust – and the disengagement it fosters – is a symptom of deeper leadership/culture issues. Joe Folkman’s book, The Trifecta of Trust: The Proven Formula for Building and Restoring Trustcuts to the heart of this foundational leadership issue.

Joe went deep into Zenger Folkman’s 360 database of over 1.5 million ratings of over one hundred thousand leaders to define the key elements of trust. He found, “while there could be hundreds of behaviors that impact trust, just three can account for the vast difference in the impact of individuals with high levels of trust and those who are not trusted at all. These are the core behaviors that create and reinforce trust from others:

  • displaying expertise and the good judgment that comes with it,
  • demonstrating consistency, and
  • building relationships.”


Trustworthy Leadership is an Inside Job

Hitendra Wadhwa is a professor at Columbia Business School and the founder and CEO of Mentora Institute focused on performance acceleration and leadership development. His book, Inner Mastery, Outer Impact, published last year, drew on nearly twenty years of research.

This month Wadhwa published a Harvard Business Review article, “Leading in the Flow of Work.”

He explains that his book “introduced the main tenets of exemplary leadership and argued that leaders can embody them by tapping into their inner core – the space of highest potential within them, their best self. The presence within us of such a core – of a state of peak performance in which we’re calmly aware of our inner and outer conditions and able to adapt our behavior as needed—is being substantiated by scientific studies in a range of fields, including cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and neuroscience.”


Core Leadership Energies

Wadhwa’s article is built around the Mentora Institute’s leadership model. He explains the model “builds on both ancient wisdom and contemporary science, focuses on five types of energy:

  • Purpose (committed to a noble cause)
  • Wisdom (calm and receptive to the truth)
  • Growth (curious and open to learning)
  • Love (connected with those you work with and serve)
  • Self-realization (centered in a joyful spirit)”

How to Achieve Leadership-in-Flow is a large section in the article providing “25 actions you can use to tap your core energies.” Each of these actions includes a sentence or two of practical, how-to tips. A few headings that stand out are “appeal to values and purpose,” “dial an emotion up or down,” “understand before you act,” “practice a growth mindset,” “deepen human connection,” “affirm a core identity,” and “spark joy.”


Finding the Courage to be a Leader

The Cowardly Lion’s search for courage is a central theme in The Wizard of Oz:

Cowardly Lion: All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.
Tin Man and Scarecrow: What’s that?
Cowardly Lion: Talk me out of it!

Cowardly Lion eventually realizes “true courage is facing danger when you are afraid.” True leadership is having the courage to lead from the inside out.