- Kathleen Phelps
Leading with Authenticity (or Being Successful While Being Yourself)
“Truth is a point of view, but authenticity can’t be faked.”
‘Authenticity’ is everywhere. Since the publication of Bill George’s book on Authentic Leadership in 2003, there has been a mountain of print and media on the subject. It is a topic that comes up frequently in my interactions with senior leaders as well. How can I be authentic and get promoted to the top seat? How can I be authentic with people I find personally challenging (the board, for example)? Isn’t a bit of caution warranted?
I define ‘authenticity’ as being self-aware or ‘awake’ enough to be honest about who you are, with a willingness to share this with others and, perhaps more importantly, with yourself. People who are authentic often display a sense of self-acceptance, trust, and groundedness.
Authentic leaders own their ‘stuff’, and have clarity not only on the things they like about themselves and/or do well, but also on the things they wish were different or are trying to change.
When I think of an authentic leader, I think of Aaron, a manager of mine before the term was coined. He was self-aware, and knew how life events had shaped him. He owned his strengths and limitations, and wasn’t afraid to share them with his staff.
Because he had nothing to hide, not only did he experience freedom in the workplace, he created that for those he led.
Though authenticity means “being true to one’s own personality, spirit or character,” according to Merriam-Webster, it does not give leaders license to rationalize unproductive behavior, however true to their spirit it may be!
Being a high performing leader means adjusting to different contexts and displaying agility in how you communicate and relate based on who you are addressing. It is not an excuse for being unwilling to adapt, change, or grow.
Aaron was clear about his values and his vision for the team, and approached all of his interactions with respect for the unique vantage points, styles, and interests of the people around him. One way leadership is expressed is to vary one’s approach to obtain the best possible outcome.
Authentic leaders flexibly bring their whole selves to all their interactions.
Not surprisingly, Aaron’s team thrived and was extremely loyal to him. He built a reputation for doing the right thing, advocating for his team—aligned with his values and who he was. Confident, self-aware, and without false humility, his upward career trajectory was set.
What does being an authentic leader mean to you? How might you be more successful by being more of yourself?