One of the hardest parts of being in a position of influence is attempting to unpack what it means to be a good leader. It’s natural to look to the innovators and change makers we admire, taking note of their strengths.
Similarly, we are quick to identify the controversial leaders we hope to never become. And so grows the list of the dos and don’ts of leadership. However, when it comes to effective leadership, more and more studies are revealing that one place we should be looking is in the mirror.
The term “Authentic Leadership” was first made popular by businessman Bill George’s 2003 book of the same name. George makes an argument for leadership that is both mission-driven and character-based, contending that both are essential in maintaining the integrity and success of the corporate world. Nearly two decades later, the need for authentic leadership is on the rise; the popular Harvard Business Review even deeming authenticity as “the gold standard” of leadership.
Today, “authenticity” has landed its spot among some of the latest buzzwords in the realm of business and leadership, and with good cause argues Stephanie McCarty, CCO at Taylor Morrison.
In our Lessons in Leadership video series, McCarty discusses the importance of authenticity and how she was able to transform her company’s culture and branding profile by being true to herself when building an emotional connection between the Taylor Morrison brand and its consumers. She defines authenticity “not [as] trying to be who you think you need to be to do the job you were hired for,” but instead “being exactly who you are and doing the job you were hired for.” Rather than separating work-self from home-self, McCarty believes in the importance of being true to oneself all day, every day.
When it comes to positions of leadership, there needs to be diversity of thought. While there is a lot to be learned from other successful leaders, it is essential to realize what we innately bring to the table. This is easier said than done as we constantly battle a preconceived notion of what a leader should and shouldn’t be, feeding into the myth of what being a strong leader entails.
While many believe the hallmark qualities of a leader include knowing all the right answers, having absolute confidence and being free of weakness, engaging in authentic leadership can help shed these stereotypes, paving the way for a new type of leader to emerge.
Rather than attempting to fit into a particular mold of expectation, we must allow for our individualized experiences to shape and guide us as leaders. By being more in tune with ourselves we will create a more purposeful experience for ourselves and our employees.
Research confirms the link between authentic leadership and employee satisfaction, commitment, and happiness at work. Therefore, in order to promote the long-term happiness and productivity of our teams, we must actively engage in authenticity.
Achieving and displaying true authenticity is not always easy and comes with inevitable vulnerability. On the bright side, like any other skill, authenticity can be developed and improved upon over time with conscious efforts. There are several aspects of authenticity we can make a regular practice:
Authentic leaders stick to their values.
Leaders are inherently mission-driven. To be an authentic leader, however, the mission must go beyond meeting goals of economic gains or achieving authoritative power.
The decisions we make are subconsciously influenced by a core set of beliefs and values. When striving for authentic leadership, we must not let the preconceived notions of what a leader ‘should be’ interfere with these guiding principles. Instead, we must consciously connect our personal values to our work, allowing us to feel personally aligned with our decisions at work.
To be even more effective, we need to be transparent about it. When we pull back the curtains and shed light on our guiding values, we encourage others to do the same and cultivate workplace culture built on personal motivators rather than complacent to-dos.
As authentic leaders, we must stay true to our values, being guided by our integrity as we navigate through the highs and lows of leadership for the benefit of ourselves and those working around us.
Self-awareness is a key component when it comes to authentic leadership. In order to successfully lead with confidence and resilience, we must first gain a better understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses as well as our values and mission. It is important to understand the what and why behind our words and actions.
As we engage in this level of reflection, we can use that awareness to inform our words and actions as well as identifying areas for growth. Leaders who express humility and honesty over putting up a front are going to naturally attract and inspire others, increasing their scope of influence by being true to themselves.
Authentic leaders accept and listen to feedback.
Once we can shed the notion of unwavering confidence and knowing all the answers, it is important to keep an open mind when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Approaching feedback with a growth mindset allows for opportunities for further development. When we have a better understanding of how others view us as leaders we can use the information as tools for growth, understanding there is room to grow and to better serve our community.
Listening to our audience opens the door to better understand our audience. When we better understand our audience, we can better serve and lead them. While opponents of authenticity call for structure and “faking it until you make it” to lead through critical moments, Bill George argues that leaders don’t have to engage in disingenuous calculations to get through tough times.
Instead, authentic leaders are guided by their understanding of their audience, engaging in appropriate interactions that stem from a place of concern for people rather than a concern for power.
Authentic leaders express a commitment to personal development.
Authentic leadership goes against “fitting in a mold” in more ways than one. While authentic leaders stray away from a set list of pre-determined traits, they also strive to engage in mindful reflection, seeking opportunities for continued personal growth.
Effective and enduring leadership stems from the ability to adapt to the ever-changing world around us. When working to improve authenticity, it is important that we approach our adaptability with an understanding of why we are changing rather than being accustomed to wearing many hats for the sake of playing the part. We can’t get caught up in a rigid view of ourselves as leaders, but instead, find a way to be true to ourselves while paying heed to the changing world around us.
As we aim to engage in more authentic practices as leaders, we understand that leadership is more than a position; leadership is an experience. In refining our skills, we learn how to navigate that experience to enhance our scope and depth of influence. Achieving authenticity takes time and conscious effort, and even then it is inevitable that we will fall short of authentic at times.
However, rather than falling into old ways, we must continue down the path of self-reflection. When we commit to listening to and learning from our experiences, we are creating the opportunity for authenticity to shine whenever possible. In doing so, we are setting an example for our team to do the same, to embrace their truest selves, unlocking new potential for the organic growth of our brand and the people behind it.