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What is Authentic Leadership?

#deliberateleadership #highperformance #leadershipdevelopment May 13, 2024

How do you define authentic leadership?  And why is it important? These are two questions we always ask senior leaders in the leadership development program I facilitate.  And the answers can be surprising.

There are leaders who feel that being authentic means being 100% real, being yourself, saying whatever you want, letting the chips fall. In other words, everyone else needs to adjust to my need to be me. And there are others who struggle with defining it all together, while realizing it’s important (because they heard / read that it was).

Authentic leadership is important because people see through phony. You may think that faking compassion and empathy, for example, is perfectly appropriate. The reality is that we all have an incredible sixth sense about whether or not we can believe or trust you.  Admittedly, we don’t always tune in to that sense, but it’s there – and very useful.

Instead of working so hard to be something you’re not, I recommend that you find the authentic leader in you, ensuring that it’s tempered for effectiveness. You can be you, but a better version of you.  Ideally, the best version of you because that’s what effective leadership requires.

The most efficient path to authentic leadership is increasing your self awareness.  Self-awareness is one of the four most important leadership skills, according to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which has conducted research on the topic for many years.

Knowing yourself can be a lifelong pursuit and it includes knowing your strengths, your weaknesses, your core values, and your belief system. Additionally, understanding how you are the same as and different from others – and recognizing how your behavior impacts others – is part of the self-awareness process. This is foundational to becoming an authentic leader.

Part of the process of increasing your level of authenticity is being transparent.  Recognize and admit that you are a work in progress, because let’s face it, everyone knows you’re not perfect, so you might as well engage others in your self-improvement efforts.

In my work, I use a variety of assessment tools.  What can be amusing is when people deny the results as “not me” and I encourage them to share with a spouse or someone who knows them well.  The response is almost always “oh yeah. This is you.” You might as well be transparent.

Authentic leaders are great role models because they demonstrate the best leadership qualities and traits. People want to follow someone they can trust, who is genuine, and who admits to working on improving themselves, their leadership abilities, and their leadership creditability. They encourage others to be authentic and vulnerable, and that builds trust among the team.

If you’ve ever worked for an authentic leader, and been part of a high-performance team, that experience stands out for you. And, having had that experience, you always want to replicate it. If you want to be more authentic in your leadership, and you want to create a high-performance team, we should talk.  Helping leaders with this aspiration is my favorite thing to do.

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