Leadership is influence, which is built through relationships of trust and respect. One of the necessary ingredients of these relationships of trust and respect is authenticity. People will follow authentic leaders. Without authenticity people will hold leaders at arm’s length, unable to fully relate to and rely upon them.
Years ago, the command and control model in which a boss simply gave orders may have worked. In today’s workplace, with more knowledge workers and younger employees who have different expectations and values, command and control is less relevant and less productive. Today’s workers need to be engaged and inspired if they are to be encouraged to work for more than a paycheck and accomplish more than the minimum expectations.
Authenticity can be defined as the quality of being real or true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. In a business role, it is about being skillfully genuine—being real in a way that respects the situations and expectations of others. This means that leaders can present their casual natures without wearing their cutoff shorts or looking like they just rolled out of bed. Or it can mean presenting the truth without being unpleasant or offensive in the way it is communicated.
What are some of the elements that characterize authenticity and draw dedicated followers?
- Authentic leaders are self-aware. They know who they are, from where they have come, and their own strengths and weaknesses. They are comfortable in their own skin. They do not feel a need to hide limitations or to gloat over their capabilities.
- Authentic leaders are genuine in relational interactions. They do not have a need to play a role or posture in their communications. They don’t have hidden agendas and they don’t manipulate people. They are honest and straightforward in dealing with others. In fact, they seek connection with them.
- Authentic leaders demonstrate their humanity. They draw others in by revealing a bit of who they are and from where they come. They regard their flaws and failures and learning experiences as a natural part of development. They encourage people through their self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
- Authentic leaders are open- and fair-minded. Since they are comfortable with themselves, they can accept and value input and feedback from those around them. They seek opposing viewpoints and consider options in decisions.
- Authentic leaders demonstrate solid values. They are guided by a positive ethical core. They know the right thing to do. They do not veer from the path of their character for expediency or personal gain. They consistently demonstrate their values in action and behavior.
- Authentic leaders have a sense of purpose. They know what they are about and where they are headed. They show their purpose in their passion and that passion draws in those around them.
- Authentic leaders have self-discipline. They demonstrate self-discipline through the consistency of their lives and their behavior. They are cool, calm, and collected in all circumstances and are focused on their goals.
- Authentic leaders have heart. They are sensitive to others’ needs and feelings. They demonstrate their compassion in their dealings with each individual.
It is not hard to see that the authentic leader is one who builds connections, making it easy for others to trust and follow them. Relationships that develop through authenticity are strong and positive, resulting in a cohesive team that shares and strives for the vision of the team and its leader.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.