What is authentic leadership? It’s a question we are hearing more frequently. Not surprisingly, as today’s organizations place more and more emphasis on transparency, being truly “authentic” is a real must for all leaders.
Let’s take a look at the opening paragraph of a 2013 Forbes article by contributor Kevin Kruse. I think it’s a striking way to describe the very real need for true and authentic leadership in today’s business world:
“It continues to surprise me how many leaders attempt to be one way at work, while their ‘true’ personality emerges outside of work. Once a CEO reminded me, ‘Leadership is acting.’ And it surprises me when these same leaders seem shocked or confused when their employees don’t trust them, don’t like them, and can’t really wait to work elsewhere.” -Kevin Kruse, Forbes
Ouch! What stood out to me is the line about leadership “being an act.” Because, as we already know, that’s one thing great leadership definitely should not be! In fact, because leadership behaviors are the key to earning employee trust and have a direct and lasting impact on employee engagement, it’s critical that leaders consistently display actions that are authentic and genuinely represent their “true selves.”
We believe that leadership is a verb, and therefore, great leadership depends upon the actions one takes with respect to personal and organizational values. We call this “values-infused leadership.” And, in our Leadership and Influence course, we teach participants that if leadership is demonstrated through actions, then ultimately, every leader is telling a story about what he or she values in the way they behave.
So then, how, can we as leaders ensure we are consistently behaving in a manner reflective of “who we really are?” According to Kruse, there are four ways to demonstrate authentic leadership:
- Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. They are aware of their strengths, limitations, and emotions and they’re not afraid to show their real selves to others. Their behavior doesn’t differ whether they are in public or in private; they don’t hide their mistakes out of fear of looking weak.
- Authentic leaders are mission driven and focus on results. The mission and goals of the organization come before their own self-interest. They pursue results, not money, power, or ego.
- Authentic leaders lead with their heart (in addition to their mind). They are not afraid to show vulnerabilities and to connect with their followers. They communicate in a direct, yet empathetic manner.
- Authentic leaders focus on the long term. To these leaders, beating quarterly estimates pales in comparison to their vision for a sustainable, vibrant organization. This type of leader invests the time and has the patience to truly nurture individuals, because they know this pays huge dividends in the long run.
How are you demonstrating authentic leadership today? What opportunities have you identified for personal growth?