Authenticity. It’s a popular leadership concept. Unsurprisingly, it got lots of air time at our Senior Leadership Team workshops this week.
I love authenticity as a value, but it’s not enough on its own. Authenticity doesn’t automatically equal good leadership.
When we say we want our leaders to be authentic, what we really want are people who lead authentically.
I know that sounds a little potAto / potatO, but in practice, there’s a big difference.
What is authenticity?
I’m sure we’ve all come across people who were unashamedly themselves. Those people who are who they are. They own it. They’re authentic.
Authenticity is being real, genuine, not a copy.
These are all very important things for a leader to be. Authenticity is key to building trust.
Authentic awesome people are the best. But, sometimes? People are authentically a bit of a dick.
So, being “authentically you” isn’t enough. You also need to demonstrate leadership. You need to lead authentically.
Are you being relatable or are you excusing bad behaviour?
Authenticity and self-awareness are intrinsically linked. I mean, how can we be true to ourselves if we don’t know ourselves?
When we lead authentically, our actions align with our values. We utilise our strengths and we’re honest about our weaknesses.
But, just because we’re self aware and know our strengths, doesn’t mean we only operate in one way, as though it’s our “real self”.
Authenticity isn’t an excuse for relying on our dominant strengths and avoiding working on our weaknesses.
In my first few roles, I fell into this trap. I’m not a morning person and I find it easy to run late. So, I owned it. “Typical Alana, I’m late for our meeting (again)”. I made jokes about not functioning until I’ve had my coffee. I thought my remarks made me relatable and genuine. I was being authentic, but I wasn’t being a leader.
Turns out, I was just being a bit of a jerk. I’m still not a morning person and I still like my coffee. I’m still me. But, now I don’t talk about slack behaviour as a way of trying to connect with people. I don’t make “jokes” that actually devalue people’s time.
I’ve also been managed by people who used authenticity as a mask for not addressing their weaknesses (eg. authentically being over-talkative and frenetic because that’s “just their personality”). And it’s no fun.
The way you behave is always a choice.
You can be authentic and adaptable
There’s a belief that operating outside of your comfort zone is somehow inauthentic. That being adaptable and changing the way you approach a situation is inauthentic. Wishy-washy, not the ‘true you’.
Sure, if you’re only adopting behaviours to manipulate people, then it’s not authentic. But, if you are sincere about wanting to be the best leader you can and you adopt the leadership approach you believe will have the best outcome, then adaptability and authenticity go hand in hand.
Good leaders genuinely want to grow, develop and adapt to their context.
You can lead authentically by being true to your values, while using the most effective strategies and approaches for the situation.
So, how do we lead authentically?
You could explore authentic leadership til the cows come home, but for me, it boils down to four key things:
1. Authentic leaders know themselves well. They’re self-aware, reflective and have clearly defined values that drive their behaviour. They know who they are.
2. They choose to use their strengths and work on their weaknesses. There’s a humility and honesty in their actions. Their actions are deliberate.
3. They communicate openly and honestly. They don’t sugar coat information or mislead people. They will use different communication techniques to convey their message, but their communication is not a performance. Their communication aligns with their actions and values.
4. Authentic leaders know they’re human, not a perfect archetype of a leader. They role model the behaviour they want to see. And if it goes wrong, they acknowledge that and work through it. It’s about humility, not god complexes. They focus on outcomes, not image.