by Linda Finkle
What does it mean to be a truly authentic leader? Is it strictly the act of aligning your corporate actions with your public words? Is it enough to take special care that your actions have purpose and meaning, rather than being a shallow grab for publicity or an insincere attempt to portray your company in a way that doesn’t align with the corporate vision? The essence of authentic leadership goes much deeper than that. It’s rooted in your personal self. Being genuine or authentic is to know who you are as a person first and to honor that person as much in your corporate persona as you do in your most private moments as a human being. The corporate leader and the private individual cannot be at odds – they must have a common source of inspiration. Sincerely felt convictions and desires are where the authenticity piece comes in. When you truly believe what you say, when you’re sure of your vision and your path, you will be completely uninhibited to speak with your own voice and your genius will lay in just being yourself. When you believe in your vision, your voice and your path, your leadership is more than simply giving orders. Your leadership becomes a means of connecting with the people around you, of contributing to the growth of your company in a meaningful way, and a path for taking your organization to the heights you believe it can reach. There is no more important quality in a leader than authenticity. Without it, you simply cannot build the high trust relationships your company needs to succeed. High trust relationships are the key to: a) keeping turnover low, b) securing high performance from employees, c) consistency in behavior and quality of work, and d) creating a culture of commitment and accountability. So, how does one become an authentic leader?
1. The voice of a real leader must be expressed authentically. When you speak from your heart, you create trust, collaboration and connection with everyone around you. Authentic expression goes deeper than the ability to convince key people to attach to your star. It involves telling your people what you’re going to do, and then doing it. Do not vacillate or make up excuses why you can’t or didn’t do what you said you’d do. When you’re being authentic, your words come straight from your heart and people will feel your conviction and the fundamental connection between who you are and what you say. They will trust you when they know that you are all about straight talk that creates genuine value.
2. You must communicate often and openly, and request the same from others. It’s not always easy to communicate authentically. Unfortunately, many leaders lack a tie between who they are and what they do. It’s more than just telling the truth. It’s often difficult to share unpleasant or unpopular news, so it’s tempting to try to deflect dissent or soft coat the tough messages. Communication isn’t about sharing only the good news. It’s about sharing the good, the bad and the indifferent. It’s about sharing what’s true, not what you ‘think’ they want to hear.
3. Set clear expectations and standards for behavior. It’s critical that you communicate to your people the rules, standards and ethics by which they are expected to operate, but even more significantly, it’s essential that you follow them yourself. Once you’ve set a standard, it’s imperative that you don’t suddenly bend the rule on your own because, in a specific instance, it makes sense to you. If you make a decision to change the rule, across the board, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the piece that’s imperative to remember is that you must communicate that change to your people and let them know exactly what will be changing and the thought process that led to this decision. You can’t expect them to ‘figure it out’ or understand it intuitively without you explaining the reasoning to them.
4. Hold people to the commitments they’ve made. When the time comes that one or more of your people don’t stand by their commitment (which will happen), it’s a mistake to scream at them, tell them how screwed up they are or worse yet ignore the situation and say absolutely nothing. It’s important that you remind them of their commitment and in a straightforward and calm manner, let them know how you feel about the commitment not being kept. And if that means expressing disappointment or frustration, then that’s exactly what you express. You’re not doing your people, your company or yourself any favors by letting the situation slide.
5. Value your people. Authentic leadership is all about caring deeply for your people. You want to understand who they are, what’s important to them and to learn as much as possible about what makes them tick. Knowing that you’re invested in them as people creates as sense of well-being, trust and commitment within your workforce. Having a highly committed and motivated staff really pays off, both in the short and long term. However, by the same token, if you see your people simply as another resource (like a computer) that is disposable, or as a necessary but unimportant aspect of doing business, you can be sure that they will sense that as well, and react accordingly.
6. Care enough to insist on accountability. Caring may sometimes mean that you have to ‘kick them in the ass’ at times; hold people accountable, share with them where they need improvement and explain what you expect from them. As Coach Kay says in his book, Coaching from the Heart, “it isn’t about holding hands and skipping down the path, it’s about what the hell are you doing and why aren’t you in class.” Caring sometimes means caring enough to invest in people to make them better. It isn’t simply about being nice. Being a true leader in today’s business world means being authentic, unabashedly yourself and communicating with others in a heartfelt and genuine manner. Knowing who you really are and being that person at all times. It means feeling comfortable in your own skin, not concerning yourself with a need to please or impress those around you and being willing to communicate about the tough issues. Real leaders inspire the people around them and motivate them to work together with a mutual purpose and a collective value set, thereby bringing about a desire within the united group to create unequalled value for everyone involved. Authentic leaders know that they’re not the sole basis of a company’s success. The real point of being an authentic leader is to work for their corporate community in as genuine a manner as possible and, in the process, to truly appreciate the fact that only through authentic communication and a cooperative spirit with others do we create real value in our organizations.
About the author
Linda Finkle is a leading expert on organizational communication strategies and human potential development. As CEO of her executive coaching firm, Incedo Group, Linda has helped countless leaders build internal communication and conflict resolution strategies. She brings about changes in attitude and leadership style that yield dramatic results. Company profitability is an inevitable side effect. Learn more at http://www.IncedoGroup.com