I recently wrote an article, which was posted on LinkedIn Pulse, titled, ‘5 Leadership and Life Lessons I learned from my grandfather.’ This blog post looks at the first of those lessons. Be Authentic.
We have all heard that sentiment, ‘Be authentic’, expressed by people at various times in our lives, however I have found that most people have no idea what it means to be authentic. With so many voices everyday calling us in different directions, it is understandable that knowing what it means is a challenge and actually being authentic becomes extremely difficult.
From a leadership perspective, there are numerous books, articles, videos and speakers all giving their opinions on what leadership is and how leaders should act. Authors will tell you that you should be a servant leader, a transformational leader, a transactional leader or an emotionally intelligent leader. Some conference speakers will stridently tell you of the characteristics should you exhibit or that you can only be a great leader if you meditate like they do or are emotionally stable. The same is true when it comes to your personal life.
All of these voices affect you and I have often found as people follow certain gurus, they move further away from who they are. Away from their values and ethics and over time, become something they are not. Authenticity is about becoming a better you, not by following the latest craze and changing your values, ethics or beliefs. This is about being more open, showing humanity and humility.
I have heard it said that leadership is like acting. You must portray the leader and you will become the leader. If you treat leadership like acting, you will, like an actor be false and people will not follow you for very long. Being authentic says you become the leader and you don’t need to act.
Although this article is primarily focused on authenticity in leadership, it should be an integral part of your existence. As a leader, you should be the same person at work and at home. There should be no difference.
Understanding what authenticity is and how to be authentic as a leader, will differentiate good leadership from bad and will be integral in building trust in you and in the organisation. Without being authentic, you will be just another second best fake.
The dictionary describes the word ‘authentic’ as meaning, genuine, real, veritable, lack of falsehood or misrepresentation. Actually it simply means being real. Being who you are. This is about being true to who you are, living your values and being self aware of how you affect the actions and attitudes of those around you.
Finding a definition for authenticity is relatively easy. The hard part is how to be authentic. So here are 5 principles which will help you identify whether you are authentic or not as a leader:
- Self aware – Do you know who you are and what your purpose on this planet is? Do you consider the impact of your actions, words and attitudes on other people?
- Values – Do you have a clear set of values which you will not under any circumstances violate? Being aware of your actions, thoughts and attitudes is a first step, but if you don’t know what is important to you, you actions thoughts and attitudes could be the wrong ones. Nelson Mandela believed in a free and democratic South Africa and was willing to go to prison for that belief. How strong are you values?
- Destination – Do you know where you are going in life and how you are getting there? If you don’t know where you are going, you will never know when you get there, nor will you be able to lead anyone there. Do you have goals which are bigger than you think you can achieve?
- Lead from your heart – Do you show your emotions or are you cold as ice? Do you allow people to get to know you? Do you make yourself vulnerable to success and failure? It is said leadership is a lonely place and while, from an accountability and responsibility perspective that is true, every leader should feel and show compassion and empathy.
- Impact and integrity – Making an impact in the lives of the people around you, your community and your business is good, but ultimately of little value and long term consequence if not done with integrity.
Being Authentic is the first lesson I learned from my grandfather and it has impacted the way I have led throughout my career. Being authentic is a step in the process of becoming a great leader.