au·then·tic (adj.): real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate
To put it simply: Authenticity is hard. To be real, to be true, to exist as more than a carbon copy – this is a difficult task no matter what way you slice it. Yet, as with most things that are hard, nailing an authentic leadership style is well worth the effort. However, many leaders step into executive positions and try to mold their management skills after other great leaders, explained Kellogg Insight. Of course, there is plenty to be said about taking lessons from people who have done the job and done it well. But leaders looking to truly excel in their new position must find their own path.
"People often think they need to change or mold themselves into an idealized version of leadership," noted Clinical Professor of Management at the Kellogg School Brenda Booth. "This creates a kind of impostor syndrome. They think that if they are truly themselves, people won't accept it."
So, how can leaders achieve authenticity in the workplace? Let's find out.
Accept your executive position: This tip is especially geared at leaders who are completely new to an executive role. According to Entrepreneur contributor R. Michael Anderson, many new leaders fail to embrace their leadership role from the start. The fact of the matter is, people are looking to be led. Have the courage to step up to the plate and be the visionary your team needs. You want it to be clear that you are the leader in the room. There is nothing more authentic than confidently embracing the personal power that comes with your position from the start.
Take the time to understand who you are: Authenticity in leadership is all about understanding who you are and using it to your advantage. This can manifest itself in a couple of different ways from personality to motivations. Kellogg Insights suggested leaders should begin by securing a firm understanding of their unique character. Do you tend to be an outgoing person or are you more on the introverted side of the scale? How does this factor into your approach to management? Understand what impact your personality can have on your team and use it to guide your leadership path. It is also crucial to understand how you are motivated and how that will translate to your motivation of others.
"Is recognition important? Is having a fun-loving culture important? The clearer you are about what motivates you and those around you, the more authentic and effective you will be as a leader," explained Brooke Vuckovic, an adjunct professor of leadership coaching at the Kellogg School.
" Authenticity in leadership is all about understanding who you are."
Walk beside, not above: Professionals coming into new leadership roles have a pretty sharp memory of the everyday tasks their teams are responsible for. Inc. contributor Lee Colan asserted that leaders who still take the time to help out with these tasks are often the most authentic and accessible. Exceptional executives are always ready to get down on the floor and do the dirty work alongside their team. This conveys authenticity because it proves to your staff that you are willing to do whatever it takes to the get the job done. This doesn't mean just being the pretty face of the organization – it means doing the actual labor. Authentic leaders lead by example and never exude a superior attitude due to their personal power. This type of leadership will undoubtedly have a positive influence on your staff and help improve the authentic nature of your management style.
Remember your main loyalties: While camaraderie is great, a leader's primary loyalty is with the company itself. Not the employees, and not even the customers. Authentic leaders keep this in mind at all costs. Every step they take or strategic decision they make ultimately aids the growth of the company itself, explained Anderson. At times this can be a tricky part of leadership. You may want to take a high-pay client for the dollar signs; you may want to keep an old employee because they have become your friend. But does that client fit the company portfolio? Has that employee failed to grow with the organization? If the answer to these questions is no, then you need to make an executive decision. In the end, it is your job to make sure your company is performing at its best. In order to maintain authentic leadership, executives must remember that their number one motivator is always the company.
"A leader's primary loyalty is with the company itself."
Ask for evaluations: When it comes to authentic leadership, feedback is a difficult slope to navigate. You want to remain true to your individual leadership values and not allow them to be too tainted by employee opinions. Yet, comments from your team are necessary to fine-tune your approaches. Employees are adept at sniffing out weaknesses that you may not even have seen. Ask for the occasional evaluation of your leadership approach and take the time to decide what deserves attention and what is merely a matter of opinion, suggested Kellogg Insights.