5 Steps to Becoming an Authentic Leader
A Note From The Editor
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When you think about leaders who lead authentically, and want to follow their example, you may wonder what you will have to give up -- what the price of authentic leadership will be.
But that's the wrong question to ask because the fact is that when you are authentic, you are much more effective as a leader. People want to follow you.
Here are five ways you can start to step into your natural power right now.
1. Embrace leadership.
People want to follow. When you walk into a meeting, as a leader, people are waiting to hear your vision. It’s your job to lay down what’s going to happen. Too many entrepreneurs, especially those who founded and bootstrapped their own companies, don’t embrace the leadership role.
Some leaders want their management team to come up with the strategy, reasoning that their managers will be the ones to implement it. But that perspective simply doesn’t work: Managers aren’t strategic. And you as leader end up just trying to make everyone happy without accomplishing your main strategic goal.
Have you ever been in a locker room when a coach is talking to his players? Was there any question as to who the leader was in that situation?
Have courage. Leadership means having a vision, then getting everyone on board with it.
2. Be a servant to the vision.
Your first and foremost loyalty is to the company. Not the investors, the customers or the employees. It’s to the company and your vision. So everything you do should be toward moving the company in that direction. Become obsessed with it. Remove anything standing in the way.
Do you have an employee who's been with you for a long time, though your company’s been growing and the employee no longer fits into the larger organization? Time to let that person go. Keeping employees like this around is one of the biggest mistakes growing entrepreneurs make. You're doing everyone a disservice by keeping them around -- including the employees themselves.
Consider the leaders who create excellent offerings. Do you think that Steve Jobs ever allowed people to stay on his team if they weren’t pulling their weight? Are you letting people slide? You are are losing integrity by keeping them around.
Intead, give them the freedom to find a company where they can again add massive value. It’s your job to bring in the best and make sure only the best stay on the team.
3. Be vulnerable -- but in a healthy way.
There was a time I worked with a CEO whose company had had ten straight years of growth, before his industry went into a tailspin. He was worried. He faced a companywide meeting where he would have to share the news that, for the first time, his enterprise was going to lose money.
I asked if anyone else knew the company wasn’t doing well, and he said of course, all of his competitors were doing poorly.
I then worked with him to face things head-on. He shared the situation with the rest of the company but, instead of caving, used the bad news as a rallying cry to cut costs and make the company more efficient while earning a lot of trust from his people.
Your alternative, trying to "BS" people, simply doesn’t work, no matter how good you think you are at it. Intuition is a real thing, and when you don’t show up as authentic, people realize it in their gut and start to distrust you. When, instead, you can be both vulnerable and strong at the same time, you become a leader that people want to follow.
4. Employ "neutral honesty."
When you have a difficult situation to overcome, you will be surprised how well the truth works. You do have to understand the healthy way to utilize it.
Say you have a salesperson that isn’t working out. Instead of trying to find a new one behind that person's back, then giving him or her the sudden axe, try this:
Have a sit-down. Tell this person that it’s not working out. Give six weeks' notice. The person can look for another job, while agreeing not to take along any company information, and to do a good job turning over accounts to the sales manager or the next in line (which can all be put into writing).
This lets the departing employee leave on a good note, saves you from making an enemy and gives you time to find a replacement with the least amount of stress possible.
I call this type of action “neutral honest" because you aren’t blaming anyone. You're just focuing on the facts. And no one can argue with facts. So, take the personal emotions out of things; creative solutions will appear.
5. Take complete ownership.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: You’re responsible for everything that happens.
If your company doesn’t make the sales numbers, it’s not just your VP of sales' fault. It’s both yours and his (or hers). And it’s not half for either one of you. It’s 100 percent yours.
Unless the people you are leading see you take full responsibility, they won’t either. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you increase your workload; it’s a simple shift of mindset. When things happen, immediately reflect on how your leadership allowed it to happen, then start figuring out what needs to be done to fix it.
People will quickly get the message that it’s not about pointing fingers, but about getting results.
Consider a real-life example. In 1982, someone tampered with Tylenol capsules, putting the poison cyanide into a number of unsecured bottles, and seven people died. Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, immediately did a recall of all Tylenol bottles, issued an apology and provided relief and compensation for the families -- though legally it had done absolutely nothing wrong.
The story became a case study for how to handle a crisis -- by taking ownership and being honest. Many say J&J's action increased the profile of Tylenol and made it a more trusted brand.
Compare J&J's strategy to that of Pete Rose or Lance Armstrong, two people who lied over and over to the public, which later heard that those two athletes were, indeed, guilty. Look at these men's legacy. Now, think what kind of person you want to be remembered as.
6. BONUS: Give yourself a break.
The last step I’m going to throw in is free: It’s about self-compassion.
Keep in mind how many positive things you help bring about in the world. In your work, your personal life, philanthropy. When things aren’t perfect, when you’re not perfect, be kind to yourself. Remember that you are a risk-taker, a creator. Smile and chuckle when you aren’t perfect. Embrace your humanness.
The good things about these steps is that they revolve around changing the way you go about leading every day. You don’t have to do anything more, just change the way you are doing them.
The benefits will be enormous. You will be more likable, people will trust you more, and you will turn into that “natural leader” we hear so much about. You have it in you; you just need the courage to live that way.
It’s all worth it. I promise.