We have all heard that authenticity matters to our leadership.
So, how do I develop myself to be more authentic?
If there’s one thread that runs through the fabric of one’s character and the goal to be an effective, inspirational leader it is authenticity—seeking to be trustworthy, credible, reliable and your best true self for your people.
And flourishing workplace cultures are built on authentic leadership.
Here are three practical ways to increase your authenticity as a leader.
1. Start with Self-Awareness
If we’re truly going to be healthy, authentic leaders we must become deeply self-aware. This takes personal work and time that involves, silence, solitude and in many cases suffering.
I remember when I came to the realization that I was a recovering people-pleaser. In a fast-paced leadership culture, I found myself becoming what other people wanted me to be. Checking off my to-do list gave me great pleasure and constant activity reinforced what I saw as my value. It happened gradually, over time and it was easy to find myself trying to be someone I was not.
Self-awareness brings us back. Self-awareness frees us to return and course correct. Self-awareness brings freedom as we become our true integrated selves with our unique God-given gifts, talents and strengths.
2. Develop the Practice of Listening
Authentic leaders constantly listen with humility and learn from the feedback of others.
Authentic leaders practice several kinds of listening.
Listening to Others. The path to authentic leadership requires listening to understand the current reality. Reality is truth—good or bad. How do we come to understand organizational reality? It requires the humility to listen. Understanding can come though through discussions, employee engagement surveys, financial statements, and, yes, 360-assessments of how our leadership is experienced by those closest to us. We need to listen to understand our leadership status in this present moment.
Listening to Our Own Internal Voice. Additionally, the path to authentic leadership requires times of silence and silence where we can truly hear our own internal voice. We often have a myriad of voices in our heads—direct reports, board members, donors, customers, a parent or mentor, other close family members, etc. When I take time in silence, I can let those voices settle down, even dissipate, and I can then embrace truth.
At the Global Leadership Summit, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and a five-time Academy Award winner, described his yearly practice to reconnect with his authentic self. At the beginning of every year, he would spend a week alone at a retreat center. No meetings, no interruptions, no emails and no phone calls. He didn’t describe it as a spiritual exercise, necessarily, but talked about how truly refreshing he felt from the inside-out. This practice of silence and solitude centered him and became the springboard he needed to lead one of the world’s most creative cultures for the coming year.
3. Embrace Genuine Humility
Unfortunately, leaders often deceive themselves (or are deceived) about their reality. They lack the humility to accept reality about themselves or their organizations. When we allow ourselves to become deceived, we cannot be authentic.
In my work, I see how some leaders’ perspectives about themselves and their situation can be fed by insincere or flattering feedback. To be positively perceived by the boss, feedback is often communicated the way he or she likes to hear it. Unfortunately, the more layers there are in an organization, the less truthful feedback a top leader receives.
In order to become an authentic leader, we must embrace humility as a gateway to personal growth. Greater self-awareness cultivates a new depth and desire for learning about ourselves. Leaders who seize this truth open themselves to authentic transformation. Such humility is at the core of our being able to learn.
As a leader, I’ve found that seeking to be authentic is not often easy. Our culture encourages us to cover up our mistakes and weaknesses. Being vulnerable is often seen as weakness. Yet, authenticity is the path to true impact in your leadership.
In order to increase your authenticity, try integrating the following practices to anchor your leadership in reality, especially as you seek to build a flourishing workplace culture.
- Tomorrow, as you take time to read, and to pray, bring your entire being—and all you are and are becoming—in silence. Quiet the external voices and just listen.
- Practice being transparent about your life, your family, your work—your gratitude’s challenges and sufferings. No SPIN! See if it draws people closer to you.
Your authenticity as a leader will become infectious on your team.