Cat with a Lion Shadow

The other day I was talking with a leader I admire about the importance of authenticity in leadership.  We were discussing a particular issue within her organization and she said “I feel like I never hear anything authentic from him. There isn’t much I can do (for him) if he doesn’t get real.” Simultaneously, I was saying to her “There isn’t much hope for improvement or success if he doesn’t start communicating authentically.”

Successful leaders earn the right to lead, in large part, due to their authenticity. Leading with authenticity means you have a fairly strong sense of self awareness.  Possessing self awareness means you understand your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses (I prefer to call those “opportunities”).  You also understand how your behavior impacts the people you have the privilege to lead, your peers, your customers, and even the people up the chain of command from you.

Leadership through authenticity is freeing and endearing.

It enables you to give credit where credit is due, take responsibility for short-comings, and respect – even promote – the knowledge and skills of the people around you.  You don’t have to always be the expert or have the best answer to every question.  When you lead with authenticity, you realize there is often more than one “right way” to do something, and your way may not be the best way this time.

There is great freedom in releasing the artificial (and self-sabotaging) burden of needing to be seen as the expert in all matters, and the creator of all things good.  It is endearing – which means people want to be around you and even follow your lead – when you are big enough to encourage them be the expert, develop new ideas, and celebrate them for a job well done.

Unfortunately, some managers need to be the focal point if things are going great and the blame-thrower when things go badly.  They have internalized a lie that someone else’s knowledge or success somehow threatens theirs. (Notice I said “managers” not “leaders” – there is a difference. Occupying a position does not make you a leader.)

The truth is, authentic leadership requires a level of vulnerability and humility.  It also requires a strong knowing that your success is dependent on the success of your team.  If they fail, you fail too. Let’s take that one step further…If they fail, you failed them

That’s right. Somewhere along the line there were conversations you didn’t have, questions you didn’t ask, collaboration you didn’t allow, and requests for help you didn’t listen to or make.  More likely than not, there was respect that wasn’t given, trust that wasn’t fostered, and value that was withheld. In short, you put your pride (a/k/a “ego”) ahead of the mission at hand.

Now, just for the naysayers in the crowd:  Of course, every leader has individuals who cannot be successful in their role.  As long as you have followed your internal processes, and lived up to your end of the deal with regard to respect, support, communication, and training, let them go in peace.  You didn’t fail them; they simply weren’t the right fit for the position.  But naysayers, you know that’s not what I’m talking about here…

The leader I mentioned at the beginning knows this well:

Successful leadership requires authenticity, and authenticity requires courage. It takes both to aggregate the knowledge, lean on the skills, and facilitate the success of the people around you.

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