If it is to be, it is up to me. This may sound like the title of a Dr. Seuss children’s book; however, these ten small, yet powerful two-letter words from famed artist, William H. Johnson, are the backbone of every authentic leader. That’s because authentic leadership is all about your individuality and uniqueness. To be authentic, you must choose to leverage the qualities that make you, YOU.

So, what is  ‘Authentic Leadership’ and why is it important?  Simply put, Authentic Leadership is about owning your personal experiences and acting in line with your true self. Authentic Leaders inspire and engage their teams by providing goals that are aspirational, yet achievable, while getting their employees excited about their personal development and contributions to the organization. Authentic Leaders hold themselves accountable for their behavior, which starts from within.

Authentic Leaders demonstrate the following five traits. Think about how you would assess yourself in each category.  Then, ask yourself, “Where do I have room to grow?”

  1. Self-awareness: Effective leaders spend time seeking to understand their own behavior, strengths and values. They treat their leadership experience as a learning journey and continuously evaluate what they stand for.
  2. Self-regulation: Self-regulation is the process that leaders use to identify opportunities of ‘choice’. When they are in a moment of decision-making, they take time to evaluate the situation, including the people they are interacting with. Effective leaders use this moment to determine who they need to be, in that given moment. Sometimes this means that they need to make slight adjustments in their behavior that allow them to remain ‘real’ while balancing the needs of the situation or person.
  3. Personal Acceptance: Authenticity comes with being honest about your abilities. Humans cannot be superior at everything that comes their way. Authentic Leaders make peace with their abilities, including their short-comings. They accept the fact that they have strengths and weaknesses and know that they are still completely whole.
  4. Trusting Transparency: Effective leaders must earn the trust of their teams to build engagement and drive performance. To do so, they proactively share information that helps people do their jobs and disclose their personal feelings and opinions on topics. This approach helps to create environments where people are open to be genuine and trust one another.
  5. Optimism: Employees want to be inspired to perform. Authentic Leaders consistently exhibit positive behaviors that inspire and motivate their employees toward the future.

While you’ve just learned some ‘truths’ about authentic leadership, there are also some commonly held myths on the topic as well. For example:

  1. You must be completely transparent. Not true. The key is to share what you know, only when it’s okay to do so. It’s all right to tell your team when you are unable to speak on a topic or when you don’t know the answer to something.
  2. If you “tell it like it is” you are being authentic. That is not the case. Authentic Leaders must consider others and how they will react to their actions. This is where self-regulation comes in to play. While you need to be yourself, you must filter out non-productive messages, tones and behaviors.
  3. You are you and you can’t change. It’s important for leaders to build self-awareness and use it to stretch, grow and change for the better. Effective leaders learn from their experiences and interactions with others and work hard to integrate new behaviors and improve.

Which of these myths did you believe?

Being an authentic leader requires you to live within a delicate balance of being your true self and leading by example. To become an authentic leader, you must be committed to continually developing yourself through meaningful experiences and continual learning. Once mastered, it will help build genuine relationships, empower others and create an environment based on trust.

Cary Cooper, J Burke Ronald. 2006. Inspiring Leaders. New York: Routledge.

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