Imagine a situation in which someone worries that they would be less admired (or perhaps even shunned or literally booed!) for saying what they honestly think about a difficult situation their team is facing. Unfortunately, this scenario plays out far too often, with many people opting simply to agree with the rest of their team — and not explaining what other actions or decisions they would make — even when they think it’s the wrong choice.
Being the lone voice of opposition on a team project can be a scary experience. For example, someone might be reluctant to speak out against how disrespectful their team members are being to one individual for fear of being similarly targeted. Or someone who has great ideas for how to improve a certain process might be unwilling to make themself vulnerable and risk being ignored.
The oft-cited phrase “be yourself, because everyone else is taken” does nothing to encourage leaders to be authentic because it fails to address the fear that prevents people from being their authentic selves. What do leaders fear?
- Fear that their suggestions aren’t good enough.
- Fear that they will be rejected by their colleagues.
- Fear that no one is listening.
- Fear that their solutions are the wrong ones.
Leaders should not be afraid to leave with their authentic selves. But what does that look like? What does it mean to be authentic?
The Authentic Self Is a Natural Compass
An authentic leader bases their decisions and actions on their core values and is therefore perceived by others as genuine. A leader who uses what is important to them to guide their behavior can never go wrong. For example, someone who believes that speaking up to share their perspective is more important than being popular with the team will never let themself down by remaining silent. (And a leader who values everyone’s time will always be punctual and respectful of not taking up more time than truly necessary.)
Strong Leaders Are Authentic Leaders
A leader who is seen by others as someone worth emulating is an authentic leader. Leaders who always demand to have things their way are not strong leaders but rather bullies. Strong leaders display their authentic selves by following through on their promises, listening to team members’ suggestions, making honesty a core value, and being fully present.
Influential Leaders See Authenticity as Critical
Just as someone cannot be a leader without being influential, they cannot be influential without being authentic. Influential leaders are visionaries who can share their ideas in clear and exciting ways to enlist others’ support for them. A title or position doesn’t convey influence; rather, it emerges from an individual’s authenticity, ability to galvanize others, and enthusiasm.
Authentic Leadership Is Contagious
When leaders are authentic, the people around them feel empowered to be authentic as well. Authentic leaders don’t need to constantly question how they go about working with others or approaching difficult decisions. Because their authenticity allows them to be aligned with their values, they know why they are taking specific steps and feel confident in their actions and behavior. When leaders are authentic, team members joyfully join in and respect authenticity. Through the emergence of a culture of truth and vulnerability, strong relationship building and people-centered decisions lead to higher performing teams.