© Otmar Brettschneider

Authenticity is not another personal brand value. Authentic leaders lead with their hearts, not just their minds. They show their emotions genuinely, and connect with staff. They communicate in a direct manner with empathy. Authentic leaders lead from their core.

Here are five fast facts about authentic leadership worth knowing:

  1. Leadership is about behavior, not position; it’s about giving direction, creating alignment and gaining commitment. No study has ever produced a clear profile of a leader or a universal leadership characteristic leading to success; individuality is key. Leadership evolves from life stories.
  2. Authenticity is your greatest asset, however, it is not innate and you can only indirectly influence it. Others ascribe it to you. One way of enhancing the likelihood of being seen as authentic is by following your intentions and keeping your promises. Authenticity is closely connected with sincerity, honesty, or speaking the truth.
  3. Authenticity reflects aspects of the leader’s inner self. Authentic leaders adapt to the demands of the situations they face and the people they lead without losing their identities in the process. They remain focused on where they are going but never lose sight of where they have come from.
  4. Consistency is easier to measure than authenticity. Hence, it is essential to be consistent, that people can tell when you shift your story and your work in response to whatever is happening around you.
  5. Authentic leaders are more interested in empowering employees than in money and personal power. They are guided by compassion and heart, dedicated to personal growth, and committed to building lasting relationships and strong organizations.

A while ago, when I was a team leader at a multinational financial services organization, I had a direct report who was seemingly developing into a replica of me. She used the exact same phrases and expressions, copied my body language, and started to dress like me, enroll for similar learning activities etc. I was flattered at first, but her copying me started to bother me. A result of her “copy – paste” approach was that she had difficulties at finding acceptance with other colleagues. I wanted her to express her real, true self with all the edges, strengths, limitations, and emotions. And I wanted her to show the distinctiveness of her individuality.

What could I do to help her strengthen the conjunction of outward seeming and genuine inward being?

I figured the best way forward to position the challenge would be to create a development plan for her. We started by identifying her professional goals, topics that she had a keen interest in, and ways of working that seemed natural to her. We then compiled a long list of her strengths, experiences and values. We reviewed past performance reviews, feedback she had received from different sources, and results from self-assessments to learn more about her behavioral and communication preferences. She finally described her ‘ideal professional self’ using behaviors that she wants to activate more, values that she would like to express and her attitude with regards to work relationships.

When we were clear about the starting point as well as the goals and direction of her development, we jotted down steps and actions that would get her there. Those not only included a style check but also ways of learning more about her favorite topics via some business books and self-paced webinars, and experimenting with setting boundaries in a professional way. After a while and some setbacks, the team and colleagues reacted to her different behavior, and she started feeling more appreciated and part of the unit.

Helping her become more of who she actually was also helped me become clearer of my vulnerabilities, strengths, weaknesses, intentions and purpose. These were my five most important lessons learned on being an authentic leader:

  1. Self-acceptance is the key and crucial first step. Positive self-regard for all of who you are helps you identify and validate your needs and expressing them appropriately. Being self-actualized is an endless journey that is never complete.
  2. I am enough. Challenging and interrupting the voice of self-judgment can help us stay connected to our own originality. Invite all of yourself in leadership behaviors.
  3. Self-awareness about who we are, our identity, our life story, strengths, weaknesses, values helps us manage our relationships with others appropriately and genuinely by sharing thoughts and beliefs that are important to us.
  4. Fake it till you become it. It takes real-world experiences to learn how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others to be able to decide how we actually want to be seen. Reframing our life story allows us to transform at our core.
  5. Tell the truth; not only to others but first and foremost to yourself.

Being an authentic leader enhances your executive presence, creates trust and allows you to inspire and manage change. Inspired Executives would be honored to be part of your journey, as advisor, enabler or mirror. Contact me. 

Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.
Ayn Rand, philosopher