What is Authentic Leadership?
I was recently asked what the term authentic leadership meant and I realized that there is no short answer to this question. It means being true to your self, but which self? As human beings we are multi-faceted. We may act and respond in our personal lives differently than in our work lives. Can we be more tempered at work when something is not going right than at home, absolutely!
Depending on different situations we can be confident or unsure; social or anti-social; assertive and demanding or modest and collaborative. What about the monitoring of our words and behavior? Is it authentic if we carefully monitor what we do and say to others? These contradictory facets of our selves make it difficult to determine how to be our authentic selves, yet these aspects are not mutually exclusive. We ebb and flow through each and at times there is a synergy that feels like our authentic selves. When we put on a leadership persona that disconnects with our true self, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to develop honest relationships with others and to become an authentic leader.
So how do we reconcile the different ways we act and respond to become an authentic leader? Here are 6 steps you can take to develop authentic leadership:
Someone once said that the longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart. First and foremost we are all human beings and speaking to colleagues and employees as human beings is the first step in building a leader’s legitimacy. It takes empathy to create a caring culture. Authentic leaders who are in tune with their emotions and share their feelings when expressing their thoughts create an environment that promotes openness which is critical to successful outcomes. Show your vulnerability.
Unlock Your Perception of Yourself
Having a rigid sense of self can stagnate your growth and prevent you from trying new approaches. There is an internal conflict leaders experience when navigating their role as an executive. Experimenting with new approaches can make them feel like they are imposters. If new approaches and change are resisted because they do not align with one’s image of self, you become the antithesis of an authentic leader. Feeling uncomfortable when trying something new is normal. It is not being a fake. Authentic leaders ask for help, knowing that they can’t be all things to everyone. They promote openness and develop trust through honest relationships.
Leaders who have a clear understanding of their values and who are consistent at communicating and upholding those values are respected because they act in accordance with those values. They are seen as working in the best interest of their customers, employees, and company. As soon as you compromise on your values, even a little bit, the meaning is lost and a leaders authenticity is lost. Holding strong to your values helps team performance as well as strengthens the confidence others have in you as a leader.
Sense of Purpose
Leaders who are focused and passionate about their work and what they are trying to achieve attract followers. In having a clear vision with a strong understanding of their leadership purpose, they can align people around a common cause. When there is purpose, people feel motivated, respected, and connected and more likely to trust each other. When there is trust, people are more inclined to collaborate and experiment—to open themselves up to others and to novel approaches. Authentic leaders are also sensitive to the impact of their words and actions on others, and carefully select their words to engage others to create positive results.
Connect with People
Authentic leaders build relationships with others. They are willing to share their experiences and listen to others’ experiences, occasionally interweaving relevant stories of their personal life. They care about their interactions with others and improving their relationships. They are open to sharing changes occurring at work, their thought process behind them, and to listening respectfully to the ideas of others. In turn, colleagues return the respect and are more committed to decisions and actions.
Engage in Reflection
Taking time to reflect on what is important to you and seeking out real-time, candid feedback from colleagues, friends, and others on how you are coming across demonstrates self-awareness and a desire for growth and development. Leaders who openly listen to critique from others and seek to understand their flaws are seen as caring about their work, their colleagues, and the environment they are creating. They are viewed as being genuine.
Life is fluid, and as a leader, you are balancing many responsibilities. You are speaking to multiple audiences (e.g. colleagues, employees, board members, and investors) and adjusting your communication to motivate positive change. Self-regulating one’s words and actions to achieve better outcomes is expected of leaders. It does not mean you are disingenuous or a fake. Our feelings and actions may change in any given situation depending on circumstances, but honesty along with thoughtfulness and a touch of humility goes a long way in helping you become an authentic leader.