'Just be yourself' is an unrealistic approach to leadership, outgoing Impetus chief warns

Andy Ratcliffe, who left the charity on Friday after four years in the role, says a peculiar thing about leadership is that people must sometimes choose which emotions to show and when

Andy Ratcliffe
Andy Ratcliffe

Trying to “just be yourself” is an unrealistic approach to leadership, the outgoing chief executive of the venture philanthropy body Impetus has warned.

In a blog posted to mark the end of his four years in charge at the charity, Andy Ratcliffe said that authenticity in leadership was important and people could spot it a mile off. 

“But often authenticity is taken to mean ‘just be yourself’, which is not only the worst dating advice I’ve ever received, but it’s also an unrealistic approach to leadership,” he wrote. 

“One of the peculiar things about leadership is that you sometimes must choose which emotions to show and when.

“If you’re speaking to your whole organisation, or presenting to hundreds of potential donors, you make a conscious choice about how you want them to feel and what emotions you need to show.”

He said this was not fake because he did not think people should show emotions they did not feel. 

“But I think we should be honest that it’s weird and can, because of the element of performance it inevitably involves, make authenticity feel inauthentic to you as the leader,” said Ratcliffe.

In the piece, Ratcliffe said that people in the charity sector often over-emphasised the importance of individual leaders and under-emphasised that of leadership teams and shared leadership capabilities. 

He also wrote that leaders should manage themselves in the way they would manage others. 

“It’s been amazing how often I have found myself treating myself in a way that I hope I never treat people who work for me: pushing myself too hard, never switching off and punishing failures,” he said.

“I think now I would feel more comfortable giving myself a break so that I could perform well over the long haul.”

Maria Neophytou, director of public affairs at Impetus, has been appointed interim chief executive of the charity. 

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