Becoming An Authentic Leader: Six Questions to Build Resilience

Resilience and HealthHow to use the five elements of innovative leadership to become a more authentic leader is the focus of this five-blog series. We will explore each element in depth and provide recommended next steps. The second component of innovative leadership is how an understanding of resilience helps you become more authentic and also create a more authentic workplace.

According to the Forbes article, “Authenticity: Your Greatest Leadership Asset,” leadership guru, Warren Bennis, says: “…letting the self emerge is the essential task of leaders. Indeed, leadership is, first and foremost, all about you. People often have a misguided notion that leadership is about everyone else. But if a leader hasn’t journeyed inside first to get clear on his or her values, strengths, passion and vision, their lack of authentic grounding will cause them to behave in inconsistent ways, eroding trust and undermining their leadership effectiveness.”

The other day I met with a client who is struggling with health challenges for the first time in his life. At forty-one years old, he has been blessed with great health until back problems forced him to take a leave of absence from work He was given surgical and non-surgical treatment options to address his back condition. The non-surgical choices involved managing his stress and lifestyle as well as a daily routine of exercise and stretching. While the non-surgical option may seem easier compared to the surgical option, the underlying dilemma is facing the fact that he cannot live up to his own expectations of himself. He is young and suffering stress-related physical problems that, if he does not get under control, will likely result in chronic pain for years to come.

This week we are examining how resilience impacts authentic leadership. We define resilience as the ability to remain flexible and focused in the face of ongoing change. In my client’s case, he quite literally cannot physically remain flexible and focused.

So, what does this have to do with authentic leadership? To be a resilient leader, we need to attend to several personal elements of ourselves: our physical wellbeing, our thinking, our emotional intelligence, our sense of purpose, and our connections and support system. As an authentic leader, we must be honest with ourselves and others about what allows us to be resilient as individuals and as an organization.

As you read the Forbes reference above, it seems so simple: be true to yourself. For our leader, a major part of him being authentic is facing his physical limitations and being authentic with others about what he can and would be willing to do with regard to work schedule that will balance with his personal health needs. This man works for a large consulting firm where leaders pride themselves on their stamina, persistence, and always achieving results beyond what others could deliver—which may be part of the root of the problem. Now he must rethink who he can authentically be and face the reality of his physical limitations. Although we will all will face this at some point in our lives and careers, most of us never really think about it until a dramatic event such as taking medical leave forces us to reassess the choices we make and how we’re living. Now, my client is coming to terms with his humanness, and facing his limitations for the first time, and needing to figure out what it even means to be true to himself. Does he retain his stressful job as a consultant—the only professional job he has known? What other avenue does he have to pursue his passion and make an impact on the world?

How you can put resilience to work for you to become more authentic? Here are six questions to consider as indicators of your resilience as a leader:

  1. Am I taking the actions I need to take to remain physically healthy over the longer term?
  2. Do I manage my thinking throughout the day, every day (minimize negative self-talk, be gentle and kind in how I think about myself, express gratitude regularly, have reasonable expectations of myself and others, etc.)?
  3. Do I demonstrate strong emotional self-awareness and self-management?
  4. Do I have a sense of life purpose that inspires daily and helps me keep the less important annoyances in perspective?
  5. Do I have a spiritual practice that supports my well-being?
  6. Do I have a support system that supports and encourages me during good times and bad?

If you’ve answered no to any question on the list, my challenge to you is that you be honest with yourself first. If you’ve answered no, what changes can you make in the short term to move toward greater resilience? If you’ve answered no, are you honestly willing to be honest with yourself and others to move toward resilience?

As a resilient leader, you are more able to respond to the ongoing challenges of your role with clear thinking and presence. This, in turn, allows you to continue to be authentic with yourself and others around you. It also allows you to promote resilience in your workgroup so that you can ensure others are also able to perform at their highest capacity.

Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet—thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing—consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.

— Lance Secretan

To learn more about becoming a more authentic leader using Innovative Leadership we recommend taking leadership assessments, reading the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

Photo credit: Army Medicine

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