No leader is perfect. But it’s better for leaders to be real then to pretend to fit someone else’s definition of “perfect.” In our Discovering Your Authentic Leadership Style workshop, for example, we guide teams through a proven process of understanding how each person can bring his or her very best instead of trying to conform to a preconceived definition of success. Leaders find the experience liberating and empowering because they get permission to be authentic.
Brenda Booth, a clinical professor of management at the Kellogg School of Northwestern University says:
“People often think they need to change or mold themselves into an idealized version of leadership. This creates a kind of impostor syndrome. They think that if they are truly themselves, people won’t accept it.”
Here are 7 ways leaders can maintain self-awareness and lead in an authentic way that resonates with the people they lead.
7 Ways to Model Authentic Leadership
Brent Gleeson at Inc.com lays out some tangible ways leaders can be authentic with their teams:
- Get your hands dirty: Instead of always telling others what to do, jump in from time to time and help. Leaders don’t have to be the most advanced member of the team, but they must understand their industry and business. Working alongside their team builds trust and continues to develop their own knowledge and skills.
- Watch what you say: Actions do speak louder than words, but words can directly impact morale. Your leaders need to be careful that what they say aligns with what they do. If someone needs help, it’s usually best to do it in private. Leaders should always encourage team members in front of one another.
- Respect the chain of command: Gleeson says, “One of the fastest ways to cause structural deterioration, foster confusion, and damage morale is to go around your direct reports.” Leaders who don’t model respect for those they follow will have a hard time getting respect from those they lead.
- Listen to the team: Giving orders is part of being a leader. But the best leaders recognize they don’t know everything. So they take time to stop and listen. Working together increases the odds of winning together. But working together only happens when leaders intentionally ask for and receive ideas and feedback from the team.
- Take responsibility: No matter whose fault it is, every problem will ultimately become the leader’s responsibility. “Blame roles uphill,” says Gleeson. “Great leaders know when to accept that mistakes have been made and take it upon themselves to fix them.” As difficult as it may be at times, authentic leadership takes ownership for the actions of the team, rather than blaming those they lead for any failures.
- Let the team do their thing: Leaders need to refrain from micromanaging. They can communicate the mission, vision, values, and goals and give necessary direction. But then then should step back and let the team innovate while monitoring progress. Setting this example fosters trust with team members and encourages them to do the same with those they lead.
- Take care of yourself: Yes, a leader’s own physical and emotional health contributes to leadership success! When leaders are tired and worn out, their focus and energy levels fade. They may try to keep up the appearance of health, but the people they lead will see through it. The best way to get healthy employees is to model that behavior with a healthy lifestyle.
The practical upside to being authentic in leadership is that it’s downright effective. It disarms resentment and removes friction in the workplace. It opens the door for deeper connections and motivates people to follow leaders, not because they have to, but because the leader is worth following.
Bottom line: authenticity engenders trust. Trust makes everything move faster and everyone more effective.