What is authentic leadership?

It would seem that we need a label for everything, this being one of the silliest if you ask me. In simple terms, authentic leadership is about actually giving a crap about your team, the people that help YOU achieve YOUR goals.

Well maybe there a bit more to it than that, let me explain…

While we think leadership comes in the simplest form of looking after a group of people working towards a common goal, it does get a little trickier as it is deeply connected to your ability to assess yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I think I am an awesome and authentic leader 24/7! Um, not true, in fact, that is the opposite of authentic leadership.

By uttering those very words, you miss the key ingredients of what will truly make you a great leader; awareness, humility, dropping the ego and the ability to serve.

Oh, and that BIG ONE, vulnerability. Yup, getting it all out there and sharing your soul. Maybe not all of it, no one wants to get to know you that much.

In my experience, the biggest challenge for leaders in all forms and styles is their inability to separate the concepts of weakness and vulnerability.

When we break them down, they are both inherently human traits, after all, leaders are human too… aren’t they?

To be so self-aware that you are prepared to identify and understand your weaknesses is the biggest step in moving towards being a vulnerable and potentially great leader.

Leadership myths that hold us back:

  1. I am not allowed to show weakness
  2. I must have all the answers
  3. I can’t be a leader I am not good with people
  4. I am important
  5. I am already a good leader
  6. I need to be fearless…

What a load of rubbish. I’ll tell you why and we can get to the bones of the authentic leadership style.

1. I am not allowed to show weakness

My first question would be why? Are you perfect, do you people think you are perfect… even your family don’t think that you are perfect so let’s get over ourselves and move on.

Our ability as humans to punish ourselves is extraordinary. We let the imposter complex that many leaders have and stop us from stepping into the leadership role fully.

None of us was born with any knowledge or expertise. Leadership is a path of continued learning from the day you step up into the role to the day you decide you no longer what to positively influence another person.

Yup the job is never-ending and once you think you have cracked it you will be delivered a lesson that challenges you to your very core.

To focus on your strengths and identify your weaknesses is important, but the next decision is critical. What to do about it.

You have two options; one is to educate yourself and plug that gap, the other is to find someone better than you at your weakness, so you don’t spend any time on it at all.

This leads me into the next myth…

2. I must have all the answers

Let’s not beat around the bush here. YOU ARE WRONG.

I don’t want to break your fragile ego but let’s be serious. Even Google doesn’t know everything.

There has never been a great leader that knew everything they needed to create the outcome they desired. Why do you think that some of the most successful people to grace the planet had a group of trusted advisors?

Your job as a leader is to create an environment where you enable your team to create the answers alongside you and for you.

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One thing that many leaders have is a full complement of decisions they need to be making daily and to make them all with all angles considered is just not possible.

The ability to create a team around you that trusts you and you trust gives you the ability not to need all of the answers.

Richard Branson claims that one of his greatest skills is identifying people that are better than him to run his 400 plus companies.

His role as a leader in the Virgin Group is to constantly be pushing what is possible and then finding those that agree and want to be part of the solution.

3. I can’t be a leader I’m not good with people

Your job as an authentic leader is not to be this warm fuzzy caricature of yourself. It is to create a vision that people want to be part of.

Steve Jobs was well-known for being a tyrant and incredibly hard to work with and for, but he is arguably one of the greatest commercial leaders of all time.

His unwavering passion for design and perfection drove people mad. But look what it achieved, one of the most innovative and valuable brands in modern times.

I‘m sure not everyone liked him or even respected him, but he was an authentic leader with a vision so strong, he was prepared to throw all the rules out of the window and create a new set for Apple.

4. I am important

Well kind of. Sometimes. Remember you may be the one leading, it doesn’t mean you are MORE important, it means you have a different set of responsibilities compared to others.

Also, being a leader, you are responsible for seeing round corners, into the future, knowing the unknown and loving every minute of it.

What is important is how you use your position to influence others, because power corrupts. As an authentic leader, you should be driven by the vision of doing something bigger than yourself, serving others no matter what, to live your life in service.

Yes, you are important, but so are those around you and it’s down to you to decide how you want to use that influence, for impact or ego.

5. I am already a good leader

Maybe you are. But can you become better? A key characteristic of any GREAT leader is their ability to develop resilience through their actions.

You see authentic leaders don’t expect their teams to do anything they wouldn’t be comfortable or capable of doing themselves. Not in a technical sense, but more practically.

If you expect your team to self-educate, then so should you, not only in your craft but as a leader. Yes get stuck into formal learning, but leadership is done on the job, with people taking action.

The more you step into the fold you more you learn. Your awareness in every situation will, over time, enable you to develop critical leadership skills that compound and in turn make you a better leader both now and in the future.

Here’s a simple exercise; when you do your staff reviews and catch-ups, ask them what YOU can do better.

Simple huh? As a leader, our job is not just to appraise others and provide feedback so they can grow. But for them to be able to tell us where we need to improve.

If you have that open dialogue with every direct report and everyone you interact within the organisation, you can build deeper trust and connection… but only if you act upon the information provided. (Guess what, some of it you might not like!)

6. I need to be fearless

Here we go again. You and your ego. If you were fearless then how are your team going to trust you won’t do something dumb?

Rather than being fearless, how about having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset?

Simply put, you accept that there will be both opportunities and threats, but equally you accept they CAN be overcome with the right thinking, collaboration and action.

Yes take risks, but ensure you know how big they are, the impact they might have and what that means to all involved.

Brené Brown talks about the future belonging to the brave.

Being brave means stepping outside your comfort zone and leading your team through the unknown, being fearless means you don’t consider the consequences of your actions.

While the myths can be dispelled they can also be rationalised against the way we often lead, through our ego and our perception of power.

Authentic leadership is a gift that allows you to share the journey with your team, your clients and anyone else that you influence in your role.

It also enables you to be a single version of yourself, never switching hats between your executive colleagues, your shareholders, your staff or your family.

You become aware that there is only one version of you and that you create that best self, based on your values and your mission in your personal life and in business.

The real magic of in being an authentic leader is the ability to be human and to treat others as you would want to be treated.

It doesn’t mean you won’t get it wrong as you are using all of your human traits in a variety of situations to create a fair and positive outcome for all.

Conclusion

This style of leadership enables you to ignore all the generalised myths that I have outlined above and be yourself, be present and deliver a true experience that can drive your brand, vision and your people forward.

Authentic leadership is not a recipe for being liked, it is the ability to maintain a true version of yourself while leading others through the known and the unknown.

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