Every time I see an article or a coach talking about "authentic leadership", I roll my eyes and sigh a little.
The idea of being authentic and authentic leadership sure sound good, and we all kinda, sorta buy into it, but it's become a little too vacuous and trite for my liking.
I like things to be a little clearer, and way more useful.
So here's my thinking:
Authentic leadership is really just being honest with yourself first.
Let's break this down a little...
1. Practice radical self-honesty
Sometimes it's easier not to be honest with yourself. Like when there's something you don't want to face because it's too awkward or uncomfortable. Or when there's something you keep putting off and you make excuses to yourself. Or when you know deep down what's really happening, but it's far easier to ignore it or deny it or push it aside.
But there's no way you can be an authentic anything (leader, friend, parent, whatever) unless you're honest with yourself first.
Sometimes this requires radical self-honesty—the ability to notice, acknowledge and respect what's true for you, no matter how inconvenient it might be.
I chose to ignore my bisexuality because it was just too damn awkward and exposing. I ignored the warning signs about an impending breakdown when I turned 30. I fooled myself about the debt I was getting myself into over the course of a decade.
Self-honesty is a practice. It's not a one-time thing, and it's not perfectable. The point is to practice.
2. Stop pretending to be something you're not
This is where I demonstrate my remarkable grasp of the obvious. You can't be authentic if you're pretending to be something (or someone) you're not.
- If you're adopting someone else's leadership style, you're not being authentic.
- If you're trying to be alpha because that's how you think you need to be, you're not being authentic.
- If you're pretending to have all the answers, you're not being authentic.
- If you're pretending to care deeply about something that doesn't matter to you, you're not being authentic.
- If you're playing a role because that's what you think is expected of you, you're not being authentic.
There are so many ways pretend to be something you're not, and all of them have to do with protecting yourself and trying to make sure you won't be rejected.
That's why being authentic feels so scary, because there's nowhere to hide. It requires you to show up as you already are.
But know this. You'll always be more confident, more effective and more at peace with yourself by being who you already are, than you'll ever be by pretending to be something you're not.
3. Align with your values
Imagine that one of the things that matters most to you is creativity. Being able to make creative leaps, join disparate ideas together and create something new gives you goose-bumps and makes you come alive.
Now imagine that your work is all about creating predictable outcomes, or minimising risk, or creating safe results that everyone can have absolute confidence in.
Where's the room for those sparks of creativity that might just blow everyone away?
Where's the capacity for innovation? Where's the joy in what you do?
Your values are the things in yourself, in other people or out there in the world that really, truly matter to you. When you don't know them, or when you don't align your decisions or actions around them, you'll be ignoring what matters and just going through the motions. You'll always be at arm's length, never really having to show up and never having to give your all.
But when you know what your values are, and then get behind them, congruence happens.
You get inherent value from what you do. Things flow. People connect with you. Great work happens.
It's freakin' wonderful.
Frankly, instead of eye-rolling ennui, this is a picture of authentic leadership that makes my heart bounce and neurons spark.
How does it feel to you?