Whether I am working with leadership development programs or presenting to groups about leadership, a common word keeps cropping up- authenticity. Everyone agrees that being authentic is a key ingredient to successful leadership, but what does it really mean? Is being authentic really that important? One could define authentic as: not false or copied; trustworthy; valid. All of these words point to a specific way to lead that could be described as genuine and honest. Let’s take a look at how these profound characteristics translate into leadership.
- Not false or copied: Leadership is all about being truthful to others while spearheading our vision. Although we might feel passionate about our goals, it is far more important to be honest about what we want to accomplish. If our teams sense we are not leading in truth or there is a sense of deception, we will not be able to make much of an impact. Not only do our words need to be truthful, but also our actions. We need to communicate in a clear, open and direct way so that we can be easily understood. We need to choose words that are precise and descriptive of what we want to achieve. By setting an example of transparency, we are paving the way to truthful interactions. The second word, copied, implies that leaders need to be truthful to themselves as well. It is important that we “be” the leaders we want to represent to others. Choose the leadership style that feels comfortable and allows others to best relate to you.
- Trustworthy: Without trust, we cannot lead and we cannot create a healthy work environment. If the people around us feel safe, secure and belonging, a leader is doing their job. We can cultivate trust by being consistent in our actions and spending time getting to know our team members. Leaders who are successful in developing rapport with others, will be the most influential leaders. Being trustworthy involves strategic listening, empathy and empowering others to achieve at their highest levels. It also means doing what you say you are going to do. And most of all, being trustworthy means doing the right thing, even if it is the hardest choice.
- Valid: Just as an expiration date on a carton of eggs tells us when the eggs are no longer edible, leaders need to continually grow and develop professionally to effectively lead. Sometimes we get out of the habit of learning new things because we get so bogged down on our daily tasks. But part of being authentic is having the ability and agility to change and adapt. Although fear may guide us, we owe it to ourselves to be open- minded and engage our curiosity about our quickly-changing world of work. Whether we reach out to a colleague about something they are doing or connect with an online community or take a course, leadership means taking chances to enrich ourselves.
Here are some ways to approach authentic leadership. What do you see are the most important characteristics to being an authentic leader?