It goes without saying that being yourself is a lot easier than being someone you aren’t. However, when pressure rises, the stakes of decisions increase, and there is a surefire judgment from others; being authentic becomes infinitely more difficult for leaders. Those leaders who can be authentic in the face of adversity stand out above the rest.
Those leaders who are authentic in the face of adversity stand out above the rest.
In my work studying and coaching leaders, authenticity is one of the most essential leadership skills that doesn’t get discussed enough. To take it a step further, too many leaders are trying to be something or someone they aren’t, and their team knows it.
Too many leaders are trying to be something or someone they aren’t, and their team knows it.
What is Authenticity as a Leadership Skill?
In the SkillsLoft assessment, we define authenticity as being transparent, genuine, and honest. Living according to your beliefs and values. It comes of Greek origin that means genuine.
Brene Brown said, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Not only are Brown’s words wise, but I would add to them. “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are and who we are trying to become.” If more leaders started with the mindset that the truth about who they are and what they are about will eventually come out, they would be themselves much earlier in their journey.
In the end, the truth comes out; you might as well be your authentic self from the start.
People follow people, not titles. Being an authentic leader who shares truth, passions, and even shortcomings will have people following you and not the other way around.
Components of Authentic Leadership
Transforming yourself from an inauthentic leader to an authentic leader isn’t easy. However, big changes always start small. There is a simple model that we coach professionals to use to determine if their authentic self is showing up in their leadership. It includes four components.
1. What You Stand For
If you go back to the definition of authenticity, “Being transparent, genuine, and honest. Living according to your beliefs and values.” I want to focus on two elements: our beliefs and values.
Knowing your beliefs is critical because your beliefs become your behaviors. Napoleon Hill used to say, “whatever the mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve.” Your core values are the fundamental beliefs you hold to be true. For example, in our Catalyst for Growth Program, one of the first personal development exercises professionals complete is putting definitions around their beliefs and core values. It never ceases to amaze me how many people haven’t put the effort to define them.
2. How You Show Up
The two elements of authenticity relating to how you show up are self-awareness and vulnerability. If you have ever worked for or with a narcissistic leader, you know about someone who lacks self-awareness. Being self-aware is a skill, and it’s developed through being in vulnerable positions that expose the truth.
Being self-aware is a skill, and it’s developed through being in vulnerable positions that expose the truth.
Exercises like a leadership 360 °can be an excellent way to increase self-awareness and demonstrate vulnerability to team members.
3. When You’re At Your Best
It’s difficult to be authentic if your current role doesn’t allow you to be at your best. I am amazed at how many professionals do jobs for years that they aren’t good at and don’t like. The two elements to consider around this are your skills and passions.
There are phenomenal resources and assessments out there for leaders to explore their strengths and weaknesses as it relates to their leadership skills and passions. For example, Patrick Lencioni and his team at the Table Group did some excellent work and research with the Six Types of Working Genius.
4. What You Want to Become
The most overlooked element of authenticity is not considering who you want to become. Dr. Suess wrote it beautifully, “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” Every person is a work in progress, and showing up authentically should express how you are adapting as a person and continuing to have a growth mindset.
Nothing is wrong with changing your mind when you learn something new. In fact, it’s inauthentic to be unwilling to learn, grow, and develop into a better version of yourself over time.
There isn’t a magic pill to start showing up as a more authentic leader and professional. However, having the courage to define what you stand for, know how you show up, realize when you’re at your best, and define what you want to become, is a fantastic place to start.
How important is it to you for leaders to show up authentically? Tell me in the comments how you determine if a leader is authentic.
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.