Today’s post is co-authored by Michelle Braden (leader of the Authentic Leadership Summit) and Mike Figliuolo.
I have asked myself the question, “What makes a leader authentic?” many times over the years. My natural response would be that you just know in your “gut.” I realize now that although the “gut” does talk to you, there is a better, more accurate way to measure what is truly authentic. I have also come to realize how important it is for me to look at myself to check my own authenticity. I cannot change anyone else; I can only change myself.
For myself, as well as the leaders with whom I work, my goal was to create factors we can look at in our own lives to determine and measure our authenticity. I truly believe that being authentic is easier for some than others because of how their brains are wired, both from a nature and nurture standpoint.
Looking at the word authentic from a dictionary standpoint is a good starting point. According to dictionary.com, authentic is something that is “NOT false or copied; genuine; real.” Authentic is also defined as “Having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence, entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience, reliable; trustworthy.” We can take this literal definition and break it down in authentic leadership. An authentic leader is:
Genuine and real. He or she is not trying to be something or someone they are not. In a book I read several years ago titled “An Enemy Called Average” the author, Mason, says, “We are all born originals, but most of us die carbon copies.” In short, an authentic leader is self-aware of who they are and who they are not; they do not try to be something else. FYI, this does not mean they do not work or areas that need improvement.
Supported by unquestionable evidence of who they are. You can ask those they lead – their peers, family, community, boards (all the people around them from all aspects) – and the evidence of their behaviors lines up with the values they hold, to create consistency and a foundation of evidence for who they are.
Entitled to acceptance and belief in who they are (based on the facts) by those within their sphere of influence. People believe in them. They are consistent, the facts prove it, and their leadership is earned (entitled), unlike other leaders who are not authentic and look to leverage their title and authority.
Reliable, trustworthy and experienced. An authentic leader is a dependable leader. The people around them rely upon and trust them. Their experience shows up in all that they do – from behaviors (emotional intelligence) to their cognitive thinking abilities (ability to do the job). Authentic Leaders do not have to “fake” it.
For leaders to be authentic, it means setting aside all the trappings of leadership and the preoccupation with “acting like a leader” (note acting means being something you’re not). Being authentic means simply being yourself. Unfortunately, our sense of self can get clouded by trying to meet expectations others. The only way to see through those clouds is to clearly articulate who you are and what you want to be.
Articulating who you are requires introspection. You need to take time away from “the business” and focus on yourself. Doing so means you have to ask yourself some tough questions and answer them honestly. To the point above, that articulation has to come from your gut. It requires emotional resonance. Yes, leaders – you need to get in touch with your feelings.
More importantly, once you’re in touch with those feelings, you need to share them with the members of your team. You can do so in the form of a clear, concise leadership philosophy. No buzzwords. No B.S. Just share your story, beliefs, and aspirations. Share your flaws too. Everyone has flaws. If you try to hide them, your team will know it and you’ve breached the fundamental premise of authenticity.
Hiding behind an image is difficult to do for you must maintain the facade which requires effort on your part. It’s much easier to simply embrace your imperfections and let your team know what they are. In doing so, you’re making yourself vulnerable which serves to build trust between you and your team. If they know you’re willing to expose your flaws, they’re much more likely to know you’re always shooting straight with them.
I encourage you to take the time to discover, explore, and articulate your personal leadership philosophy. If you can answer the 16 critical questions in One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership you’ll be well on your way to having an authentic, honest definition of who you are as a leader. You can use that philosophy to guide your daily behavior and reinforce the actions you should take so you can be the authentic you in every interaction you have. And if you’d really like to immerse yourself in the study of authenticity, I encourage you to attend The Authentic Leadership Summit. The event features some of the best and brightest thinkers on the topic. Aren’t you worth taking a few days out of work and investing in strengthening your leadership skills? I believe you are…
– If you want to take a big step toward being more authentic, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership do the introspection required to define who you truly are as a person and as a leader.