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How to Become an Authentic Leader


{#/pub/images/HowtoBecomeanAuthenticLeader.jpg}Authentic leadership.  What is it and why should you care?  Authentic leadership is relevant and even more important and necessary today in a world where we observe many leaders proven to be untrustworthy. Consider some of the many examples where you have felt let down by a leader you know or have grown to know through the media.


Authenticity is where our external actions align with internal beliefs.  It’s the alignment of who you are and who you appear to be. Are you the same person in and outside of work?  Authenticity, however, cannot be forced and it is essential we understand our unique self in order to be authentic. 


Authentic leaders are genuine if their desire to help others and to empower the people they lead to make a difference exceeds their desire for power, money or success for themselves. They lead with purpose, meaning and values. They have strong relationships and recognize and use their natural abilities — their Strengths. They are also aware of their shortcomings and work to minimize them getting in their way. They realize they cannot be great at everything. Others follow these leaders because they know where they stand. When their beliefs and values are challenged, they won't compromise. They help others do the same and help their team recognize and realize their potential.  Here’s an example that will illustrate this topic.


Michael is a highly skilled leader. He is self-aware and makes a concerted effort to create an environment in which each of his team members can be their most effective at work. He has assembled a diverse staff and has worked hard to help them come together as a cohesive team. One morning he arrives to find an upset employee sitting in his office. He has a conversation with the employee who is concerned about the condescending behavior of another colleague. The upset employee, Michelle, suggests that the work environment at their organization is hostile and not supportive of her doing her best work. She feels belittled by her colleague and is seeking Michael’s support to ensure the workplace is conducive to delivering top quality service to their clients. As she leaves, Michael immediately owns the situation and thinks about his leadership style. He wonders what environment has he created?  Is he subconsciously allowing some people to treat others in a negative way? Michael wonders if his authentic leadership style supports his organization’s success. How does he need to refine his style and develop as a leader to still be authentic and create a more positive environment?


How can leaders be authentic and encourage others to do the same while concurrently meeting the needs of the overall team and organization?  Forbes refers to authenticity with the following:


Learning about yourself is perhaps the single most important outcome of a powerful educational experience.  Self-awareness can lead to an ever-increasing authenticity, which in turn leads to powerful leadership abilities.  Authenticity is not about “accept me for what I am;” authentic leaders are self-aware, willing to adapt and change and “be who they are in service to others.” Education should be a powerful process of increasing self-awareness, of coming to know yourself and of learning the intrinsic value of who you are as a human being. . . and then understanding the need for constant change, personal growth and learning for the rest of your life.”


How can you become a more authentic leader? Here are five steps to help you on that journey.


5 Steps To Become An Authentic Leader


1. Understand yourself first. 


Reflect on your experience, results and the feedback you have received. Then take an assessment to understand yourself at a deeper level. Doing a Strengths assessment is a very positive and empowering approach and helps you understand your greatest value and potential.  By knowing who you are and also who your colleagues are, you can create an environment in which people are able to comfortably be themselves and create a common language where they understand one another and rely on the best of each other. Doing a Strengths workshop as a team is a fast and effective way to know each other’s greatest value.  It can increase team respect, trust and communication for greater collaboration and results.


2. Have a real perspective at different levels. 


By understanding your colleagues and meeting them where they are, you are showing the highest degree of respect and appreciation. Don’t treat people as you would want to be treated, rather treat them as the unique individual they are. We didn't all grow up in the same household, and we all have diverse experiences and backgrounds. Embrace this diversity and know that diverse teams have been shown to have greater business results. Treat individuals as they need to be treated to perform at their best. 


3. Build resilience


There are defined ways you can increase your resilience and enhance your “emotional intelligence” skills to help you gain a more open and mature perspective. Developing a strong sense of emotional intelligence will help you demonstrate your flexibility and help you respond to others appropriately.


4. Adjust your leadership style to the situation at hand. 


It is important that you are able to adjust your behavior to the cultural norms and expectations of your organization and do it in any way that feels natural to you. Ask yourself if your personal beliefs and values align with your organization’s culture? On a more granular level we face multiple situations each day and you need to be able to read the situation quickly and respond accordingly. For example, if you are an introvert and prefer to process solo, you and the team you lead will benefit when you learn to be able to process with the group, especially if you are surrounded by extroverts. This does not mean you change in a way that is not genuine for you, rather you expand your ability to do both when your situation requires it. This helps you be both authentic and agile.


5. Leadership behavior means behaving in a manner that is authentic to you and appropriate to your organization and situations in which you find yourself.  


To do this well means you need access to a broad range of behaviors. Chances are your organization has certain leadership behaviors or capabilities that they expect from leaders. Get to know these and how others perceive you in each one. Once you have that baseline then look for ways to grow in these behaviors in a manner that is authentic to you. This will increase your leadership impact and the outcomes you can achieve. It will also expand your ability to flex your style authentically based on the situation. 


One of my personal successes in authenticity was to understand what I truly believed in and made changes to devote my career and personal growth to put me on the right path for me. That belief is in a Strengths-based approach to business and life. Like many that choose to take this route, it has brought me greater satisfaction and success. I strive to be the very best of me. After all, as Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”


{#/pub/images/JayneJenkins3.jpg}Written by Jayne Jenkins, CEO Churchill Leadership Group-Jayne, a STAND OUT Master Strengths Coach and Workshop Facilitator, is a leadership business veteran working with some of the largest companies in the world including Exxon, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis.  She has over 23 years of experience leading successful sales teams and holding positions in Marketing, Strategic Operations and Organization Development.  As CEO of Churchill Leadership Group, Jane consults and coaches teams to maximize the impact of Managers and Teams through a focus on STRENGTHS for sustainable results.


Do you have a question for Jayne?  Post it in our Senior Manager Community and she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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