Five Steps to Becoming an Authentic Leader

Authentic LeadershipBill is a highly skilled leader. Self-aware, Bill 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 with unique skills and a lot of idiosyncrasies. Bill has worked hard to help this staff of stars come together as a cohesive team.

One morning he arrived to find an obviously upset employee sitting in his office. He has a conversation with the employee who is clearly concerned about the condescending behavior of another colleague. The upset employee, Michelle, suggests that the work environment Bill created is hostile and clearly not supportive of her doing her best work. She feels belittled by her colleague and is seeking Bill’s support to ensure the office in which they work is conducive to delivering top quality service to their clients. As she leaves, Bill thinks about his leadership style. He asks himself if his style has created an environment that promotes a positive work environment for all employees. Is he allowing some people to treat others in a negative or unsupportive way? Is there anything he should do differently to promote a more productive and supportive environment? How can he create an environment that allows unique people to be themselves and at the same time work as a cohesive team? Bill’s instincts say he has created a positive environment but now he hears from a valued employee that he may not be doing as well as he thought. Fundamentally, the question for Bill becomes – is his authentic leadership style supportive of organizational success? Does he need to refine his style or develop as a leader to be both authentic and create a positive environment?

The question that comes to mind is: How can leaders be authentic and encourage others to do the same while concurrently meeting the needs of the overall team and organization?

Let’s start with a definition of authenticity from a recent Forbes article: 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.”

Innovative Leadership 5 Key ElementsNow let’s turn to innovative leadership and how it can help leaders become more authentic. As you examine the pyramid you will notice five key elements. By using these elements you can become a more authentic and effective leader:

  1. Understand your leadership type by taking an assessment to understand yourself; then, learn about your colleagues’ types. By knowing who you are and who they 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. In an environment such as this, the balance allows colleagues to be completely who they and aligned with the culture of the overall group.
  2. Understand developmental perspective and how individuals are able to take the perspective of many different levels. By understanding the level of your colleagues and meeting them where they are, you are showing the highest degree of respect and appreciation. The golden rule of authentic leadership could be “treat people as they need to be treated to perform at their best.” Since we are all unique, treating others as you want to be treated may create some significant problems in a leadership role.
  3. Building resilience includes developing a strong sense of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, knowing your strengths and preferences. It also includes understanding others’ strengths and preferences, and demonstrating the flexibility to respond to another’s level appropriately.
  4. Situational Analysis is, in part, your ability to adjust your communication and behavior to the cultural norms and behavioral expectations of the organization. This means you can read the situation quickly and respond accordingly. If you are an introvert and prefer to process solo, you will benefit—as will your team—when you can expand your capacity to process with the group. This is particularly helpful if you are surrounded by extroverts who process “out loud” with others. This does not mean you change your innate preference or act in a way that is not genuine, but rather you expand your ability to do both. It is a bit like learning to swing forehand and backhand in tennis. You’ll continue to have preferences, but, by expanding your abilities, you can be both authentic and agile.
  5. Leadership behavior means behaving in a manner that is authentic to you, and appropriate to the organization and situations in which you find yourself. To do this well it means you need access to a broad range of behaviors.

The antidote to being forced to make the choice between being authentic and responding appropriately to many diverse situations is to expand your “range of behaviors” and increase your comfort with this broader range. A personal example is that I am an introvert by nature, yet I teach and speak publicly  as part of my work. I love the role of faculty member even though the specific task of teaching is not in my innate comfort zone. The key for me was to stretch my comfort zone so that I can be authentic in front of a class or an audience at a conference. When I started teaching I really struggled with this, and now it is second nature. I continue to be an introvert—and I probably teach a bit differently than an extrovert would—but through self-awareness, pushing the confines of my comfort zone, and practice, I’ve found a way to be authentically myself.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com sweet dreamz design

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