Have you ever heard of the term authentic leadership? Many people hear this term and don’t take it seriously enough. The truth is authentic leadership is not reserved for the elite few or a set group of people. Authentic leadership is an essential skillset to be embraced by everyone. No matter what your title is or where you are at in your career, you can be a leader starting today.
Here are five keys to consider as you expand your authentic leadership prowess
Be True to Your Word
Have you ever interacted with someone who says one thing and does another? I say this respectfully, but it’s annoying and downright frustrating to deal with someone who is not true to their word. One of the hallmark qualities of an authentic leader is they seek to be true to their word no matter what. If circumstances unexpectedly change or there is some legitimate reason why they can’t fulfill their promise, they go to the person directly and update them. If necessary, they apologize and seek to find a mutually beneficial solution. They don’t leave others hanging high and dry. A reasonable person will understand that your plans changed and respect the fact that you were upfront about it. What people won’t understand is when you bail on them for no reason, ignore them, or let them down. The essential ingredient here is communication. Leaders communicate early, and they communicate often. They are also slow to make promises to others, knowing their integrity depends on their ability to follow-through and deliver on the promises they make to others.
Do What’s Right, Even When It’s Hard
There’s a time and place to listen to what others have to say us. And please know that constructive feedback from trusted sources is essential to enhancing your leadership capabilities. With that said, one of the most important traits of the authentic leader is the ability to trust their intuition even when others disagree with their choice. Be respectful and kind to others every step of the way, but don’t let someone else dictate your direction or tell you what to do. If someone agrees with your authentic decision, that’s great. But if someone doesn’t support you, doesn’t agree with you, or flat-out doesn’t like you, don’t let that slow you down or stop you. When you are true to yourself, not everyone may like it. They’ll feel threated by your audacity and courage, and try to knock you down to their level. Don’t let it happen. Do what’s right, even when it’s hard.
Demonstrate by Example
Leadership is not about telling others what to do. It’s about leading and demonstrating through example. It’s about showing the way. Yes, leaders delegate to others…eventually. But first, they show the way. Instead of telling others to go do a difficult project, authentic leaders help others get started with the project and show them what they need to do to succeed at the endeavor.
To be clear, I do delegate to others to help with parts of projects I’m not good at. For example, I paid an excellent web designer to code my website jeffdspeaks.com. However, I didn’t avoid the hard work. I created all the content, blog posts, and videos for the website. I focused on my strengths and paid others to help me with my weak spots.
I pointed this out because I wanted to make it clear that demonstrating by example doesn’t mean you have to stress yourself out by doing things you aren’t good at. It’s wise to focus on your strengths, finding team members and colleagues who can cover your blind spots. What I mean by demonstrating by example is to have your actions speaker louder than your words, and to maintain a strong work ethic. I’m also referring to company situations where managers and bosses choose to take the time to sit down and help their employees succeed, as opposed to throwing an overwhelming project at them without giving any direction.
Create Leaders in Others
A common misconception of leadership is that it means other people have to follow you. Don’t get me wrong, it feels good to have followers (I have plenty of social media accounts, as most people do). But leadership isn’t about getting followers. Getting followers is a natural byproduct, but it’s not the main effect. The best leaders create leaders in others by encouraging them to become independent, share their unique content with the world, and go their own way.
When the best authentic leaders are finished with their work, the people they trained will feel like they did it on their own. Authentic leaders want people to become self-sufficient and their own person.
Take Off the Mask and Show Your True Self to the World
We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all had trials and tribulations, and unexpected setbacks. Instead of dwelling on the past or complaining about tough breaks, authentic leaders ask questions like how can I share this experience in a way that helps others?
Authentic leaders are willing to take off the mask, be vulnerable, and reveal their true self to the world. This isn’t always easy to do, but being vulnerable allows people to really connect with you at a deep level. A quick example is from my own life; I share this to show that I live my own message, and I practice what I preach.
I didn’t fit in at all with my college baseball team. But it was worse than that – I was brutally bullied by a member of my college baseball team who wanted nothing more than to make me feel excluded, left out, and isolated. He went so far as to physically attack me. I decided to share this story on the Tiny Buddha website. This was extremely embarrassing to share with the world, but I did it because I knew the story could help others dealing with difficult bullies. I didn’t write the article to get back at anyone, and I didn’t share it with anyone from my old college baseball team. I specifically shared it with the purpose of helping others, using one of my darkest moments and experiences as a springboard to uplifting the world.
You can do the same. Never be afraid to share your deepest, darkest secret with the world, as it’s often the things we are most reluctant to share that most connect with others.