There is no single path or set of directions on how to become a leader. Our leadership style is as unique as our fingerprints. We each have our own personality, experiences, and skills that result in different forms of decision making, team management, collaboration, conflict resolution, and communication among many other traits. So what is authentic leadership and how can we cultivate it?
There are a variety of definitions for authentic leadership. From Peter Northouse, “Leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values,” to the Multicultural Women’s National Conference, “A model of leadership reflecting someone with integrity and strong values, whose actions and behavior consistently represent those values.” What the definitions have in common is that the focus on others and not just ourselves.
The trait most required for authentic leadership is self awareness. This is not something that is created overnight or learned in a classroom, but rather developed over years of learning, setbacks, achievements, feedback and reflection.
It could be argued that self awareness should be fostered by executives across their organization for succession planning. The earlier professionals understand their viewpoint and how it impacts their performance as well as those around them, the more prepared they are to lead in the coming years.
There are a variety of ways to support self awareness initiatives. One-on-one mentoring is an excellent way to instill the idea and put it into practice. There are also formalized options that can be used for larger groups. These include personality assessments and 360 degree feedback. Use of these tools is not a one time thing. To measure growth, these tools should be used at regular intervals.
Another aspect of authentic leadership is a foundational belief in relationships. Autocratic, top down management doesn’t work. People want leaders, but to follow them, they need to believe in them and respect them. These elements are earned over time, not awarded with a job title.
Authentic leaders must understand themselves as well as their peers and reports. As noted above in both definitions, authentic leaders need to represent the values of the people they lead. This can be difficult and requires focused effort. It also represents the second most important element of authentic leadership, listening.
Listening, discussing, and sharing with others in an open and honest manner builds respect and trust. Including others in the ideation process helps you see a diversity of viewpoints and helps them understand the bigger picture. To be successful, you must have an open mind, free of judgement and assumptions.
The third element of authentic leadership is shared values. Authentic leaders know who they are and they are unwilling to sacrifice their values. They have a purpose and know where they are headed. This translates to passion, and in the face of adversity, courage. Working together with shared values creates a cohesive unit that are intrinsically motivated to achieve their goals.
Another element of values is ownership. Serving as a north star, values allow you to act with integrity, admit mistakes and move on, inspire others, and create accountability for yourself and others. Actions are defined and understood, while misunderstandings are minimized, decision making is streamlined, and everyone is aligned in their purpose.
To learn more about Sheer Velocity, and our approach to developing authentic leadership in your organization, send us note. Working together with our partner, Hogan Assessments, we are able to customize our leadership development plan to meet your specific culture.