To thy own self be true.” – Polonius, Hamlet
What does it mean to be an “authentic leader?”
Authentic leaders are people of extraordinary integrity, with a profound sense of purpose and a willingness to live by their core values.
Over my 28-year career, I have been fortunate to have led teams and divisions of Fortune 500 companies, and during that time, I have found my true purpose – my “WHY” as an authentic leader. However, I have also worked for and witnessed many leaders who don’t possess authentic leadership, and their styles are typically very reactionary, destructive, unproductive, and unsettling for those they lead.
In fact, I recently read a great article in the Harvard Business Review titled From Purpose to Impact, stating that the Harvard Business School found that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer could clearly articulate when asked about their purpose.
So let’s start with your purpose. What is your “why,” and how does that translate to projecting your authentic self? This is important, because understanding that will accelerate your growth and deeply impact both your personal and professional lives.
It is a large question to ponder, and here is some information that may help you find the answer. These are the four core qualities I have identified in an authentic leader:
1) Authentic Leaders are Self-Aware and Lead with Integrity. They demand a tremendous self-awareness. They have a keen understanding of how others perceive them and respond to them. They are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and their emotional intelligence. They lead by their core values, building trust, and they have followers. In short, integrity shows up every day. They also consistently act the same way in private and in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking hesitant or shaky. They have a hunger to learn and improve, along with a willingness to share and be vulnerable.
2) Authentic Leaders are Results-Driven. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. They do their job in pursuit of results, not for their own power, money or ego; i.e. they don’t have an agenda outside of what is best for the company and their team. They therefore focus on the people they lead, developing their needs and supporting their goals. They are not threatened by others and embrace the strengths of those around them, realizing that with their combined strength, they can attain even loftier goals for the organization.
3) Authentic Leaders Lead with Passion, and a measured amount of emotion — not just with their minds. This arises out of their understanding their “why.” They are passionate about what they do every day to make a difference. They are able to show an appropriate amount of vulnerability to connect with their employees. Again, this does not mean authentic leaders are weak. In fact, communicating in a direct manner is critical to successful outcomes, but it should be done with empathy. Directness without empathy is cruel.
4) Authentic leaders focus on the development of their people. “Companies don’t grow; people do.” This is a quote from the CEO of a fast-growing company in the Midwest. Good leaders develop their people formally and informally; they mentor and serve their personal and professional growth needs. They hire people who are smarter than they are. They are long-term visionaries, because they are constantly looking for ways to grow their people. This allows them to typically exceed others’ expectations, and drive change for the company.
Some day you may experience being in a position where you have no feeling of purpose, and find that the sense of your “why” is not aligned with the role you play in an organization, or where you are in your life. When you get to that place, remember: never compromise your authentic self, and try to find a new locale (mentally or physically) that will ultimately bring you back to that invaluable, crucial sense of your “why.”
Your purpose is a part of your personal brand!
Contributed by: Jennifer Browning Holmes