3 Ways to Be a More Authentic Leader

Leadership

When coming up with a list of essential leadership skills, it’s not uncommon to see words like “coaching” or “visionary” come up. While such skills are undoubtedly necessary, another skill has emerged as essential in modern leadership; authenticity.

Like many words and skills today, its true meaning has been hijacked. The word authentic is traditionally defined as “real or genuine; not copied or false.” When used in the context of leadership, I describe it as, “how a leader demonstrates and shares their genuine values, stories, and desires.” If the definition wasn’t clear enough, I want you to remember this leadership truth about authenticity:

Authentic leaders forge strong relationships and inspire others to bring their human self to work.

Are Today’s Leaders Authentic?

We have new leaders emerge every generation, but one truth endures; we become the leaders we watch, hear, and experience. Unfortunately, many current leaders who were exposed to inauthentic leadership are now leading the same way. They withhold the truth, act like they have it all figured out, and leverage people to serve their needs. While I believe people can change and remain hopeful those leading this way would take a different approach, those are challenging habits to break. 

Luckily, many of today’s leaders appear to be fed up with being fake and are committed to being authentically human in their approach. 

The best leaders aren’t fake and are committed to being authentically human in their approach. 

Whatever your leadership journey has looked like so far, here are a few ideas for how to be more authentic as a leader:

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1. Share Personal Stories

There is a long list of things you can do to be an authentic leader, but sharing personal stories is at the top of the list.  

I asked Kara Goldin, founder of Hint and author of Undaunted, “Why is being an authentic leader so critical in today’s environment?” on the Follow My Lead Podcast. Her response was fantastic. “The best leaders are authentic and willing to share their story and struggles. The reason is people understand through stories who you are and what you are trying to achieve.”

Not only is Goldin correct, when leaders share their personal stories and struggles, it reveals their humanity to others. It fosters trust and makes leaders relatable.  

There is a fine line between sharing personal stories and oversharing information that makes people uncomfortable. The questions I coach leaders to answer before sharing a story are these: 

  1. “Is this going to help your people know you or relate to your perspective better?” 
  2. Does this story demonstrate empathy for their situation?”  

If the answer is yes to either of those questions, all it takes is the courage to share it. 

2. Tell the Truth

All too often, when there are things leaders must say to people, they avoid the topic or sugarcoat it so much that the truth never comes out. Authentic leaders refuse to fall into this trap and lean on telling the truth, even when it’s hard. The truth needs no crutches. I like to think of opinions versus reality this way. 

Opinions are overrated, and truths are underrated. 

Now that you know that telling the truth is an essential element of being an authentic leader, the secret is how you tell the truth. If you share the facts empathetically, it enhances the potential that someone is open to doing something different. However, if you speak condescending or come from a place of superiority, you will almost certainly get the inverse of your intended effect, 

3. Inspire With Hope

The reality of a situation isn’t always what we want to hear. This is why the most authentic leaders always paint a picture of hope if people decide to do things differently.  

“The most authentic leaders always paint a picture of hope.”

Napoleon famously said, “a leader’s role is to define reality, then give hope.” The longer I have studied great leaders, the more I recognize that they are constantly looking for opportunities to give hope. The world we live and work in is hard and constantly changing. Having a leader in a relentless pursuit of a better future is inspiring. 

Closing

There is nothing worse than a leader who believes they are tricking their people into thinking they are someone they are not. While it might last for a while, the truth always comes out. If you find yourself in a similar situation right now, I urge you to start the journey now of being a more authentic leader. 

Developing the skill of authenticity is a requirement to be a great leader. However, it isn’t easy and often takes decades to master it. Start small and focus on sharing personal stories, telling the truth, and inspiring with hope. 

The better you get at these three things, the more likely your people will look at you as someone authentic.  

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft. 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.

Leaders Who Are Great Communicators Do These 6 Things

communication bubbles

While having an aspirational vision or a well-thought-out strategy are keys for becoming a successful leader; however, your vision and strategy won’t translate to reality if you cannot communicate them effectively.

Take Gerard, a regional manager at a medium-sized business, as an example. During a coaching session, he raved about how he communicated the team’s new strategy coming out of COVID at his latest all-hands team meeting.

While I typically take leaders at their word, I was a bit stunned because my interviews with his team members told me a different story. 

These are just a few of the things they said:

“He said so much; I don’t even know where to start.” 

“He was so focused on his role; he forgot the challenges I face in mine.” 

“He rambled a lot making him hard to understand.”

From all our work studying and helping leaders, I know Gerald isn’t alone. Often, communication is a skill leaders believe they excel in, but in actuality is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

Nothing hinders a leader’s performance more than their inability to communicate effectively. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, I collected some of my favorite daily habits we have gathered from leaders who are great communicators. 

They Seek Stories and Tell Them

In a world of data-driven business, that some call management, it can be easy to only focus on numbers and results. Sure these things matter, but by themselves, they can bore and be uninspiring. 

Great communicators know this, and they are constantly looking for stories and telling them all the time. Joe Lazauskas gave us a reason this makes so much since “Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” 

If you want to get better storytelling, study the three arcs of a story, and always look for stories in books, movies, or sports.

They Ask Themselves What the Key Takeaway Is

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Bad leaders not only struggle with the proper amount of communication, but they often leave their team members confused instead of clear.

It’s impossible to be an effective leader without being a great communicator.

Great communicators overcome this by asking themselves a simple but difficult question before delivering their message, “what is the key takeaway I want the audience to take with them.” If you mimic this habit daily, you will be amazed at how you will use the 3C’s of Successful communication. Your words will be clear, concise, and conclusive.  

They Say “You” and “We” More than “I” and “Me”

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Communication has more to do with the audience than the person doing the communicating.” This means great communicators use words like “you” and “we” much more often than “I” and “me.”

While this habit seems small and inconsequential, our brains are always evaluating the potential “pain” or “gain” to ourselves. Hearing “you” or “we” locks us into the message being delivered versus the other way around.

They Constantly Repeat Standards and Expectations

Early on, I found myself frustrated with my team. In a conversation with a very wise mentor, he gave me some great advice, “Expectations are the seeds of resentment.” What made it even worse is that I had expectations, but never told my team. I just expected them to know what I was thinking. 

Bad leaders pass judgments based on their expecations not being met, without ever communicating them. 

Great leaders not only set and maintain high standards for themselves and their team members, but they also communicate them all the time. They think of themselves as the CRO “Chief Repetition Officer.” Go ahead and raise the bar around what’s expected from your team and communicate it until you feel like a broken record. 

They Are Always Aware Of Body Language.

Communication doesn’t just happen through verbal or written words—a major part of communication through body language. Bad leaders either don’t realize this or they don’t care.  

A study of teachers and students in the 1990s by Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Nalini Ambady found students needed to only watch the body language of a teacher in short segments to make judgments that accurately predicted teacher end of year evaluations. They noted, “Body language is by far the most important factor, and the teacher’s words barely mattered, it’s evident we communicate a great deal of information about ourselves through our body language.”

When an employee sees you and recognizes positive and powerful body language, they immediately are more interested in the words you might say. They will be able to conclude what you are communicating by your body language alone.  

They Listen Intently to Things Most Don’t

I asked a question to leaders recently in this post, “If you could go back to your first day leading a team, what would you do differently based on what you know now?” The number #1 answer was some form of listening. It turns out; listening is also a habit of all great communicators.

You can start to separate yourself as a communicator, not just by being a good listener but listening intently to the things most people don’t. Try locking into the conversations colleagues have, what customers are saying, or even the body language that sheds light on what people are thinking and feeling. It will drastically improve the way you communicate with others.

Closing

No matter if you have these habits in down yet or not, communication is one of those skills that’s worth your constant effort and attention to improve.  

As you put in the effort, you will be better equipped to guide your team in the right direction and execute your team’s strategy.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping improve the performance of struggling managers. 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.