Authenticity: Your Greatest Leadership Asset

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I am determined to make myself a better leader, and I just may be able to take some of you with me on this journey. I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t always end up in a leadership role in almost every area of my life. I once had a corporate trainer tell me that if you label someone a leader and continue to treat them as such, they will begin to exhibit the traits whether they particularly want the job or not. Obviously, negative labels work the same way. I personally blame my first grade teacher, Mrs. Haynes, for planting this leadership bug in me. The label: Tall kid leads the line. I ran into her at Wal-Mart in Huntsville, Texas a couple of months ago when I was visiting the family and got the chance to tell her how she was still impacting my life today, LOL! She seemed to love that.

How many times have you been at the dinner table with family or friends and the next question is: “What does everybody want to do next?” Some folks just sit there and wait on the answer, and I feel as though they are asking me to decide. So the label of leader sticks with me, and I’ve decided to embrace that role more effectively and authentically. I truly appreciated the following post by Susan Tardanico, and wanted to share it with you.

Authentic Leadership

Susan Tardanico, Contributor
Forbes.com 9/08/2011

Phonies. Have you ever worked for one? They say one thing and do another. They
tell people what they want to hear. Their views morph with popular opinion.
They’re the ones you can’t pin down, and they avoid taking a stand on just
about anything. When we work for someone we deem inauthentic, we do not
willingly support them because we don’t trust them. On the flip side, research
reveals that when we believe a leader is the real deal –- a person of
integrity and character – we are much more likely to go the extra mile and
stand by them in the best and worst of times. With trust in leaders at
all-time lows, it’s time to consider that personal authenticity may be our
greatest leadership asset.

I used to believe that phonies made a conscious decision to hide their true
selves from the rest of the world in a duplicitous identity shell-game. But
after working with leaders for many years, I’ve concluded that only a small
percentage is actually that Machiavellian and that the majority is simply
lost. They don’t know who they are, and nowhere does this become more obvious
than when they’re in a visible leadership role.

Perhaps in all the gymnastics of leadership – the politics, the management
fads and techniques, the expected behaviors imposed on us by our bosses,
organizations and subordinates – we’ve lost ourselves as people. Or maybe
we never really found ourselves to begin with. Leadership guru Warren Bennis
said that letting the self emerge is the essential task of leaders. Indeed,
leadership is, first and foremost, all about you. People often have a
misguided notion that leadership is about everyone else. But if a leader
hasn’t journeyed inside first to get clear on his or her values, strengths,
passion and vision, their lack of authentic grounding will cause them to
behave in inconsistent ways, eroding trust and undermining their leadership
effectiveness.

Curiously, most MBA and leadership development programs barely focus on
the topic of authenticity. There are many assessment tools that help leaders
become more aware of their management style and how they’re perceived, but
most stop short of helping them dig down deep and answer some fundamental
questions about who they are and how it manifests in their leadership. Maybe
there’s an assumption that these questions already have been asked and
answered; that we’ve all heeded the words of the great Socrates who implored
us to “know thyself.” But experience tells us otherwise. Take an informal
polling of your friends and colleagues. Chances are they, like most people,
are unable to answer four basic yet all-important questions: What’s most
important to you? (Core values) What are you good at? (Strengths) What excites
and inspires you? (Passion) What do you want? (Vision).

If you don’t know how to answer some or all of these questions, you’re not
alone. Answering them fully and honestly is not an easy task because it
requires intense introspection. But the payoff can be transformational, giving
you the kind of clarity that enables you to lead your life, lead others and
manage your career with intention, making choices that are more aligned with
who you are, and in the process, gaining the commitment and loyalty of those
around you.

Values
Our values are what we believe and stand for; our convictions about the things we deem to be most important in life. Values are the stuff of our character; the core of what drives and fulfills us. To get clearer on your values, try using the “Values Explorer” tool from the Center for Creative Leadership. To successfully identify your core values, you must suspend your inner judge and set aside what you believe society, your family or anyone else expects of you. If you make choices based on what you should care about – or shouldn’t care about – then you are moving further away from the core of who you are – not closer to it. When identifying your values system, there are no right or wrong choices – just authentic and inauthentic ones. Then, think about how you’re living and leading within the context of your top five values. Ask yourself, “are my values evident in how I behave, the choices I’ve made and the way I communicate? Am I truly using my own voice?”

Strengths
As leaders, job No. 1 is to surround ourselves with the right people; to build
a team with complementary strengths and diverse perspectives. How can we
effectively accomplish this if we don’t understand our own strengths and, in
turn, are able to recognize the strengths in others? Strengths are our innate
talents, the things we’re naturally good at. Business culture has long been
focused on trying to address the weaknesses in people versus unlocking the
potential of their strengths. As women, we tend to focus more intensely on our
weaknesses than men do. This translates into missed opportunity for us as
leaders and organizations.

Passion
Simply put, passion is what jazzes and excites us; what consumes us with
palpable emotion. When we’re engaged in something we’re passionate about,
we tap into a seemingly unending wellspring of energy and resilience.
If you are unclear on what you’re truly passionate about, the best thing you
can do is pay attention. Only you know how you feel as you move through the
circumstances and activities of your life. Where do you find your greatest
joy? In what circumstance do you feel you’re in the zone, in harmony with all
that’s around you, excelling without even trying, filled with unending energy?
Many people feel that when it comes to our work life, having passion is nice
but not necessary. I cannot think of worse drudgery than getting up every day
and doing something you’re not passionate about. Passion is what carries you
through the tough times, helps you inspire others and excel at what you do.

Vision
Our vision is our desired destination; the end-game we’re striving to achieve.
It’s what we want. Writing a personal vision statement is a very powerful,
often life-changing exercise because it focuses, informs and illuminates your
way forward. You describe in vivid terms the ideal picture of all aspects of
your life – career, family, community, health, spirituality — unbounded by
current constraints and circumstance. A good vision answers the questions,
“what do I want to be, do, have, and contribute in life?”

Developing a vision requires you to think big and long-term. Try not to get
caught up in issues of process (how you will get there) – that’s the job of
strategies and tactics. Also, understand that you won’t travel a completely
linear path from current state to the achievement of your vision. Finally,
remember that your vision will evolve over time. The key is to get started!
Leadership may ultimately be about leading and inspiring others, but it begins
inside, with each of us as individuals. Our ability to achieve greatness as
leaders hinges on our ability to know ourselves, know what matters, and act in
accordance with who we are. When we go through the process of exploring
each of these “prongs of authenticity,” we gain inspiring and invigorating
clarity that helps us be exceptional leaders — of our lives and of other
people.

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