Authentic Leadership: What Is It and Why is it Important?
In an ever-changing business landscape, we're seeing how important it is to have authentic leadership development that is built to last.
In an ever-changing business landscape, we're seeing how important it is to have authentic leadership development that is built to last. Those who have successfully developed their brands have learned to strategically apply what they know about themselves as individuals to create more meaningful connections with others — connections that ultimately drive business success every day.
Authentic leadership style isn't hard to spot. Whether it's Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Facebook Town Hall in a hoodie, or pajama-clad Jeff Bezos raising awareness of childhood cancer, we can usually tell when a leader is being authentic — and when they're just showing up in sweatpants or a lab coat or wearing a tuxedo to an event, because it was a condition of entry.
To help cut through some of the noise and confusion around these topics, the focus here is on answering two key questions: What is authentic leadership development? And why is it important?
What is authentic leadership?
While the definition of this concept has evolved over time and may take on a different meaning to each individual, many agree that it is simply being yourself — in the workplace and life in general. It means acting consistently upon your core values so you can be trusted by your community.
What authentic leadership is not:
Being your true self regardless of consequence (i.e., anger, insults, etc.)
Intimidating or taking advantage of people for personal gain
Being completely transparent about everything in your life
Focusing only on the needs and wants of yourself and pretending that you care for others
Presenting an outer image that is incongruent with the inner image
Authentic leadership development begins with building trust and vulnerability between yourself and your team members. To build trust in yourself as a leader, it's critical that you are truthful — and that includes admitting when you are wrong or do not have all the answers. You must also be able to communicate honestly what you expect from team members while simultaneously listening to their ideas as well as concerns they may have about projects or working relationships within the team.
Characteristics of authentic leaders
Authentic leadership characteristics stem from the philosophy of being true to yourself and your principles, which in turn leads to more positive work environments and more effective teams. But what does it mean to be authentic?
Self-awareness: the ability to understand your own thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
Transparency: the ability to be honest and candid — especially when you're wrong or make a mistake.
Emotional intelligence: self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social awareness and good relationships with others
Empathy: understanding what someone else is feeling or thinking (in order for you to be able to help them)
Open-mindedness: having an open point of view that allows you to receive different ideas or information without being judgmental
Self-reflective: looking at oneself objectively on a regular basis and giving sincere feedback about how you could improve or do things better next time
How do we create authenticity?
When we think about authenticity in leadership skills, we have to ask ourselves, "How do we create authenticity?" That is a great question that can take many forms. How do we create authenticity in our leadership style, in our leadership behaviors? But most importantly, how do we inspire authenticity in our leadership team?
There are many answers to these questions, but the most common unifying theme for all of them is that it takes time, intention and practice. The first step is understanding what authentic means. For the sake of this, I'll use this definition: Authentic = unfiltered — unfiltered expressions of who you are as a leader. In other words, be yourself. That's what creates authenticity.
How to be an authentic leader
Your leadership brand is made up of a complex dynamic — like how you behave, react and interact with different groups or individuals in diverse situations, and how you as a leader interact with others to produce outstanding results.
Authentic leadership skill is a style of leading that emphasizes the importance of being honest and sincere in your dealings with others. It also means being prepared to be vulnerable, keeping your word and admitting when you are wrong.
Be honest and sincere: Authentic leaders find ways to convey their genuine intentions through words and actions. They use transparency and honesty to build trust among team members, eventually transcending it to the larger audience.
Be prepared to be vulnerable: Authentic leaders, like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, were able to accomplish great things because they were prepared to be vulnerable enough to take risks ahead of their peers in order to make change happen.
Be consistent: Authenticity means that you say what you mean and do what you say! Authentic leaders don't go around telling people one thing and then do another. Authenticity and credibility arise when consistency occurs between what you say and do. Your behavior (actions) should always match your words. If not, correct it and make it congruent.
Be clear about your core values: What are the core principles that guide how you live your life? What are the guiding principles for how you work? What matters most in life? When people understand what's important to you, they know where you stand on certain issues or topics, which helps them better understand your decisions or actions.
Businesses and authentic leadership
In the age of misinformation and disinformation, authentic leaders are becoming the new CEOs, and being authentic is a powerful way to differentiate yourself from your competition. Authenticity brings out the best in others, which means nothing will hold you from achieving your mission. Not only does authenticity make people better as individuals, but it also makes for stronger company culture and greater productivity overall.
Finally, authenticity is the foundation of trust — and if there's one thing every business needs, it's to build trust with its stakeholders! This article attempts to help you learn how trust and authenticity outlines some of those benefits here, so they're top-of-mind when making decisions about how you want your brand represented in any given situation.
To sum it up, it's also critical to understand that leadership does not just mean being a leader in the workplace. It means being a strong leader who truly makes a difference regardless of the space he or she is in — that includes your family and friends, your community, everyone and everything.
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