The difference between a good leader and a great leader may be their ability to be authentic.
If you’ve ever worked with an authentic leader, you understand how empowering it can be. Authentic leaders aren’t very common and once you’ve worked with one, you’ll never want to work with anyone but an authentic leader again.
Why is that? Because authentic leaders are self-aware, genuine and they lead from the heart – they bring out the best in people. Most importantly, they can be counted on to do the right thing because they know their core values and live by them. Authentic leaders create an environment where their values are known and they are willing to be held accountable to them; they are transparent.
Ultimately, an authentic leader inspires trust, loyalty, and confidence within their workforce which drives optimal results, mission success, and personal growth. They create an environment where employees can grow and learn by taking risks. In addition, the authentic leader understands the need to focus on the long-term. He or she will not sacrifice their long-term vision for a short-term quick win.
Perhaps the most authentic leader I worked for was a man named Gary. He was my boss when I was working with the CIA in a war zone for a year. When I was selected for a key management position on his staff, I sent him an email before I arrived at post. I wanted to let him know I was looking forward to “working for him.” He responded to my email, “you won’t be working for me, you will be working with me.” I knew right then that I was going to be working with an amazing leader, and that he was.
Gary made it a habit of putting mission and others over his own self-interest. His relationships with all of the staff were built on an ethical foundation and that trickled down through the organization writ large. In a very difficult, demanding, and complex environment, he never compromised his values and always did the right thing. As a result, I grew and learned more in one year under his leadership than I had in the previous five years. I think there are many of my former colleagues who would say the same thing. I can remember many a night when I was working late, and Gary would encourage me to stop working and get some rest. He’d say, “Katy, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
I will never forget that experience and the impact it had on me going forward in my career. I wanted to lead like Gary did – authentically.
So, I’ve studied, observed, and learned the four key areas that grow authentic leadership skills.
Identify Your Core Values
Begin by identifying and acknowledging your own deeply held values. This increases your self-awareness which is critical to working with and leading others. When we know our core values, live by them, and understand the values expressed by others, we are more likely to achieve success in an empowering way.
Lead from the Heart
Authentic leaders have high expectations of themselves and of others. They bring out the best in others by communicating expectations clearly and personally recognizing achievements. A simple handwritten note or a mention of a job well done in a staff meeting can make a difference. Give the gift of open and honest feedback to an employee, it will help them reach their highest potential.
The key to good listening is to be present. This can be done by looking the other person in the eyes, staying off your phone or computer, and truly listening. Ask clarifying questions as necessary and do not interrupt.
Create a Support Network
Authentic leaders don’t do it alone; they have a strong support network. They surround themselves with people to hold them accountable and also help them through challenging times. Get involved with a non-profit organization, school, or a cause close to your heart. Serving others is a sure way to become selfless and is a key component of authentic leadership.
Where in your life have you experienced working with an authentic leader? How can you bring authentic leadership skills into your workplace?
Author and leadership consultant Katy McQuaid spent more than three decades in the CIA, including 12 years living abroad. Her work in communities all over the world and the endearing, unconditional love of her four-legged muse Grace inspired her to write the Everybody Loves Grace (CLICK HERE to get your copy) series of illustrated books. Parents, kids of all ages, executives, and organizational leaders hail the series as a beacon of hope and inspiration for anyone navigating change or challenging circumstances. Learn more at www.EverybodyLovesGrace.com.
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