Authentic Leadership

Authentic leadership. What does it really mean and why should you, as a business leader, care? Let’s start literally: According to my Webster’s dictionary, ‘authentic’ means genuine, credible, real. My favorite applicable definition of ‘leadership’ is guiding by influence. Put them together and we get guiding with genuine, credible, real, influence.

These days we are bombarded by falsehoods, half-truths, and stories spun to fit a desired narrative. There’s no denying those types of messages can be influential and guide behavior, but the influence is comparatively short-lived; is usually painful; and eventually has an unhappy ending. 

We humans yearn for authentic leadership. When we feel a person is presenting herself in a genuine, credible way, we connect. It’s motivating and even comforting to work with leaders who navigate their role with authenticity. In fact we are instinctively drawn to them, because it feels right.

At its foundation, authentic leadership is about character, sincerity, and consistency.

Truly authentic leaders possess high degrees of emotional intelligence – they are incredibly self-aware and equally dialed-in to the people around them. Authentic leaders know their strengths and understand their own weaknesses. They speak their truth without hedging, but also without harming.  

“Authentic leadership” can be a confusing term. My executive coaching engagements often begin with a frustrated client, believing they are not appreciated for all they bring to the table. They hope to change the people around them, but in the end, it is they who have evolved and adjusted behaviors. 

Clients show up knowing who they are and holding tight to certain characteristics. They want to stay true to who they know themselves to be. They believe that is what makes them authentic. 

Here’s the thing though:

Who we believe we are is not where our influence lies. It is how we are perceived that makes or breaks us as leaders. And, how we need to be perceived shifts as our sphere of influence grows. 

Great athletes don’t start as champions. They practice, expand, learn, and evolve – repeatedly over the span of their careers.  Great leaders do the same thing – while holding onto and modeling their core values.  

Think about your favorite boss. You trusted him, right? I’d bet his words and actions were aligned; he was consistent.  He could deliver tough feedback, win the debate, and introduce new ideas and differing opinions without alienating or threatening. In fact, I’d also bet he gained allies and built trust with every “tough” conversation.  So, what did he know that others don’t? 

He was keenly self and other-aware. He paid attention and learned about the people in his circles: Their communication and work styles and what motivated or shut them down. He utilized that information to communicate in ways that were most likely to be heard, understood, and influential… situationally.

Manipulators apply the same skills. The difference is in the sustainability. Manipulators run through people and positions (even organizations) quickly, while authentic leadership withstands the test of time.  You still remember your favorite boss fondly…

Authentic leaders keep their core values in alignment with their words and actions, even as they adjust their methods and delivery style. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say way they will do. They also spend little time with their stomachs in knots, trying to out-maneuver or control anyone else… Authentic leadership has a way of promoting peace, supporting clarity, gaining consensus, and building trust.

Ready to ramp-up your own authentic leadership? Start here:

  • What are your core values? 
    • How do you demonstrate them in the workplace? Where can you do better?
  • How congruent are your words and actions? 
    • Discrepancies deduct from your perceived authenticity bank.
  • How well do you understand your staff members, peers, boss?
    • What are their communication styles? Conflict styles? Work Styles?
      • Are they short and concise or do they share a lot of detail? 
      • How do they present a new idea? Fleshed-out business case or high-level outcome first?
      • What do they do when there is conflict? Engage or retreat?

Take the time to fully respond to those questions. Work towards your own alignment and communicating with others in ways that match their styles.  Deliver your message – be true to you – but do it in ways that are most likely to be heard and influential.  Remember, authentic leadership means guiding with genuine, credible, and real influence. Authenticity feels good – for you and the people around you.

Contact us today to learn more about our executive coaching programs and how to be an authentic leader.

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