How going bald relates to leadership

Go bold by letting your hair down or shaving it off altogether

michael going bald
Credit: Michael Lester

I know what you’re thinking. What on earth could a decision to shave my head have to do with leadership? 

It’s a fair question. 

How many of you have had this happen to you: You go to some sort of training and end up thinking “That isn’t new. I knew that years ago,” but at the same time you also admit that you haven’t thought about it in a long time. Well…that’s what happened to me. But I digress. Back to my story…

My hair wasn’t getting any thicker over the years. I’ve got the typical male bald spot on the back of my head that I wasn’t really happy about, but I wasn’t going to go get hair implants either. I had a hair clipper at home and I cut my hair with a #3 attachment. It didn’t look bad. It looked clean cut. I showed my fiancée. She said I should go shorter.  I tried a #2. It looked even more trimmed and neat, and she suggested I just cut it all off. 

I was filled with trepidation. Bald? What would I look like without hair? What if I looked scary or ugly? What if little kids cried and ran away when they looked at me? What if my fiancée didn’t like it? I looked at her again and said “really?” She smiled and said “Sure!  If you don’t like it, it will grow back in two weeks.”

I was still skeptical, but…well…what the hell!

I took my clipper and cut my hair myself with a #1/2 attachment, and then got in the shower and shaved my head. I got dressed and presented my new look to my fiancée.  She loved it! OK…first test down. Second test tomorrow when I go into work.

Reactions were mixed at work, although by the end of the day, people were commenting that it looked good. They just needed the chance to get used to it. 

I was surprised. Other than how I looked, I didn’t think there would be any changes to my life or my way of thinking, but there were things that I just hadn’t thought of that I noticed once I had shaved off my hair. I thought about that while driving into work and, since I’m always thinking about leadership in one way or another, I contemplated the parallels. These were my observations:

It took conviction to actually do it, and some people ridiculed me for it. That reminded me that leadership isn’t easy. Doing the right thing isn’t easy. Still, leaders need to have the conviction of their belief that they are doing the right thing. Nothing is less inspiring than someone who is wishy-washy.

Those that ridicule aren’t the ones whose opinion you value anyway. People that I respected were supportive. Those that I didn’t respect were critical, although most of them buried that criticism inside of humor. Leadership is about being supportive. It is easy for those that don’t practice leadership to belittle the leadership decisions and actions made by others, but you can’t lead by being a follower, and you can’t demonstrate leadership by taking no action yourself and then criticizing actions taken by others. 

Nothing is hidden. Every nook, scratch, and misshape of your head is there for all to see. Few things are more true of leadership than this. As a leader, every one of our acts and words are scrutinized by those around us. Our credibility, respect, and effectiveness are based on our unwaveringly consistent application of our ideals, policies, and opinions. There is no such thing as a part-time leader.

I’m told by others that I’m seen as more solid / serious / trustworthy. This was really unexpected, but I guess it makes sense. When you have no hair hiding your head or your face, you are viewed as being more open, more exposed. Leaders have to accept scrutiny. The more open they are about what they are doing and why, the more trust they engender.

My head is less sensitive than I thought it was, but I feel some things more. It’s weird. I can barely feel the water in the shower on my scalp, but I feel every breeze like it’s a leaf blower pointed at my head. This reminded me that a leader needs to be both immune to criticism at a personal level yet acutely sensitive to how their actions and words can affect others. Sometimes, a leader’s smallest comment can have huge results. A leader needs to be acutely aware of this, and this is frequently the most difficult dichotomy for new or growing leaders to internalize.

My sense of how much force is necessary is way off!  The first time I felt an itch on my head after shaving it, I scratched it and gouged myself so deeply I winced and swore at myself! I realized that I’m used to scratching through hair. When my scalp itched, I instinctively used the same amount of force that I was accustomed to using when I had hair. I remembered that as leaders, we need to use force and power judiciously and with a gentle touch. It usually takes less force than we think to get things done. It’s easy to use too much, and if we do that we almost always cause damage, and frequently that damage is unseen by us in the form of decreased reputation, respect, or motivation.    

Having no hair takes more work, not less. In retrospect, this should have been obvious, but I was thinking “without hair, I won’t have to worry about haircuts, shampoo, or brushing.” The truth of the matter is that I used to spend less than two minutes in the morning on my hair. Now I spend 15 minutes every morning shaving my head. When you have hair, no one notices an eighth of an inch of hair growth every day. When you are bald, an eighth of an inch is the difference between looking clean cut and looking sloppy. Just like this, many people who are not in leadership think “How easy would it be to be in charge…I can just tell other people what to do.” People that are in leadership positions, however, know how difficult it is. Challenges are frequently subtler but they have a larger effect, and like shaving your head every day, the effective leader needs to groom their technique, message, and insight every day to maintain their professional appearance and affect.

If you are contemplating making large changes in your life or in your business, I recommend that you error on the side of boldness. Frequently you won’t know the subtle side effects of your decision until the act is already done, so like Nike proclaims: “Just do it!” Fortune favors the bold!

Comment here and share with us what you’ve done and what you learned after you did it. We’d love to hear what you’ve discovered.

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