Authentic Leaders: Where are they?

Self-Awareness and the Hero’s Journey can be some of the pieces in your ‘becoming an Authentic Leader’ puzzle. Through coaching dozens of successful leaders who are in search of their ‘What’s Next’, or their greater contribution, I see them become more in touch with themselves. They become more inspiring, more courageous and more vulnerable – leading them into their authentic self and realizing deeper fulfillment and gratification in their work. Over the next few weeks we’ll talk about the elements of Authentic Leadership. I invite you to explore with me.

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From my professional experience, employees at all organizational levels seek meaning and fulfillment at work. And most are willing to work hard and give their all for authentic, trustworthy leaders.

Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. But a simplistic understanding of what it means can hinder your growth and limit your impact. 
– Herminia Ibarra, The Authenticity Paradox, Harvard Business Review, January 2015

People are neither easily fooled nor quick to offer their loyalty, which explains why inauthentic leaders struggle to hire and retain exceptional staffers. Direct reports do not feel compelled to be engaged.

In the professional leadership coaching I do, I hear many stories about the lack of authentic leaders and managers everywhere. And I see how much inauthenticity contributes to the disengagement of employees, lack of a trust culture, and generally lack luster results. In fact, it is a great inspiration and delight when I encounter authentic leaders who are dedicated to making a difference.

Authentic leaders master three key skills:

  1. They have a clear vision for where they want to go and formulate sound strategies to get there.
  2. They exhibit confident vulnerability.
  3. They inspire others to join them.

To join this elite group of inspired, authentic leaders, you must align your people around a common purpose/vision and a shared set of values. Is ‘Who we are and How we show up’ clear? In order for people to perform at peak levels, leaders need to clearly communicate what is expected of them, and why it’s important.

To become a more authentic leader, it helps to be fluent in your own Signature Strengths – what are your gifts of contribution, what is needed for your gifts to flourish, and what are the triggers that make you vulnerable to the overuse or shadow side of your strengths? No amount of knowledge makes you inspirational if you’re inauthentic.

There’s no shortage of authenticity training for executives. Since 2008, the number of articles on this topic has almost doubled in the business press, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist and the Harvard Business Review.

While virtually every leader has a vague sense of what “authenticity” means, few know how to develop it as a skill or to really BE authentic. To complicate matters, being authentic in today’s rapidly evolving global marketplace can have its share of challenges. As Ibarra points out in her HBR article:

In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviors and styles…

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are those that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organization’s changing needs.

Do you work for an authentic leader? Do you have a clear definition of what makes a leader authentic? Contact me, I’d love to hear from you. Or, let’s connect on LinkedIn.

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