In Authentic Leadership, Transformational Tools

This past Sunday I got to spend a few hours as a “dumb blonde”. It taught me some great lessons about authentic leadership.

As an executive coach, I often work with clients to expand their leadership behaviors.  As leaders we often get stuck within a narrow range of leadership behaviors.  This can derail us because different situations call for different leadership behaviors.  You are naturally decisive and move fast but a business challenge you face requires you to slow down and build alignment.  Or you are naturally good at collaborating with others but a business situation requires you to take a hard, unpopular stand.  The most authentic leaders have access to a wide range of leadership behaviors because they have embraced all of who they are.  Here’s what embracing my inner “dumb blonde” taught me about situational leadership and being more authentic as a leader.

The Dumb Blonde Experiment

This experiment was for a class I was taking to deepen my executive coaching skills.  Each member of the class got assigned the task to play the opposite of their usual persona (how we show up in front of others).  My classmates identified my persona as smart, driven, focused, efficient, and articulate.  So I got assigned the task of being a “dumb blonde” (no offense intended for any blondes reading this).

Now, you’d think that for someone who had a 4.0 GPA in college and spent Saturday nights at the library with my “Principles of Corporate Finance” book, playing dumb blonde would be really tough. Not so.  Being a dumb blonde significantly improved my ability to be a better executive coach.

Here’s how it worked.  In the role-play, being a dumb blonde as a coach meant that:

  • I didn’t have to have all the answers.  It created a great space for my clients to step up and have the answers.
  • I asked simple questions: “Wow, I don’t understand. Can you like say more?”  This allowed for introspection from the client.
  • I gave up my own focus on getting the coaching objectives met and let the client drive according to their agenda.  It created stronger accountability from the client.
  • I had more fun (I guess it’s true what they say about blondes having more fun!). I didn’t have to be so responsible. There was more laughing and relaxing and that is when creativity emerged.  The client had more fun. Really!

The Big Surprise

The big surprise for me was that I didn’t have to take a class, read a book, or practice hours of new behaviors.  I just had to step into my own inner dumb blonde.

You see, we have all kinds of skills and behaviors in our arsenal. We mostly don’t access them because we have a fixed identity (or persona) for ourselves in our mind.  We are capable of so much more when we give ourselves permission to be someone different – perhaps a part of ourselves that we have written off or disliked for a long time.  The right behaviors just emerge.

Three steps to Practice This

So how do we as leaders access more of the parts of ourselves that we need to develop?

Step 1: Identify a specific work situation where you are stuck or not being as effective as you would like. Our natural instincts when we are faced with something that’s not working is to do more of what we’re already doing – instead of stepping back to do something different.

Step 2: Step back and evaluate your behaviors. Pick the behaviors you need to practice more of.  For example:

  • If you need to be more assertive, find your inner Donald Trump.
  • If you need to be more compassionate, find your inner Mother Theresa.
  • If you need to be more daring, embrace your inner James Bond 007.
  • If you want to learn to put yourself first, find your inner “Diva”.
  • If you need to be more flexible, find your inner “beach bum”.
  • If you need to be more of a rebel, find your inner twerking Miley Cyrus.

Step 3: Practice a role play with a friend. Have fun with it.

It’s amazing what we learn about ourselves when we give ourselves permission to be a different character.  For one, I discovered that the world didn’t end when I wasn’t in control. Imagine that!  The exercise expanded the range of how I coach.  It doesn’t mean that I am any less smart, committed and responsible. It just means that I don’t have to be that. I am more at choice.

Practicing behaviors we need “more of” help them be more accessible to us in business situations.  As we embrace the parts of ourselves we have written off, we discover our true authenticity and inner power.

Additional Information

Develop Your Strengths Dial

To be an Authentic Leader, Embrace Your Inner Loser

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Showing 10 comments
  • Seema Shams

    Henna, enjoyed this perspective, I do remember being a part of series of meetings/discussions where lots of challenging questions were being asked but no solutions presented by the instigator…..and no solutions being accepted that were being put forward by others. The night before yet another one of these sessions I read a horoscope that adivised me to ‘say less.’ I put that into practice and created space for my Boss to step in and challenge the instigator (after noting out loud that I was being quiet!) That led to an eventual end to the whining that had been baseless in the first space. What I learned was that my silence gave others opportunity to take the lead and re-inforce the solutions that would work.

    • Henna Inam

      Hi Seema,

      I appreciate your sharing your perspective. I loved what you said “My silence gave others opportunity to lead”. Yes! When we practice new behaviors we create the space for others to do the same – a powerful way to transform any situation.


  • Henna Inam

    Dear Transformational Leaders,

    I have received several comments from readers who are offended by my reference to dumb blondes. For the record, I don’t believe blondes are dumb. I believe we are all brilliant. Ironically, it was a blonde woman who suggested this “stereotype” for me to try on.

    If I offended you, I am sorry. That was not my intent. My intent was to communicate that whether it is OO7, Donald Trump, Mother Theresa, or any other stereotype, we have aspects of all of these within us. These stereotypes are extreme but they let us explore parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise. Let’s use these situationally for a fuller and more rich expression of who we are.


  • Sarah Haider

    Hmmmm, Henna, you certainly packed a “lot to chew on” in this post! It’s like starting a new workout and finding muscles you didn’t know you had!

    • Henna Inam

      Hi Sarah – Happy Chewing…Bon Appetit and as they say in Mexico “Buen Provecho” (good digestion)! Yes, I love your analogy. We already have the muscles. Let’s exercise them.

  • Kelly Jones-Waller

    Wonderful Henna! What a pleasure to serve you in expanding the capacity of who you thought you were. We are all so much more!!

  • Nick Hester

    Henna, great article on finding the hidden talents you may have and applying them in a variety of leadership situations. Having wide ranging persona’s is often overlooked a key leadership skill. Thank you, Nick..

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  • […] story.  I recently wrote a blog post about leading situationally.  The response was overwhelming. I was completely dumb-founded about how many people I offended in […]

  • […] story.  I recently wrote a blog post about embracing my inner “dumb blonde“.  The response was overwhelming. I was completely clueless about how many people I would offend […]

  • […] story.  I recently wrote a blog post about embracing my inner “dumb blonde“.  The response was overwhelming. I was completely clueless about how many people I would offend […]

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