I’ll never forget my first job in the corporate world. I worked under an Executive Vice President who wore many faces. In front of other leaders, she was pleasant, charming, and kind. In front of customers, she was helpful, humble, and amiable. But in front of her employees, she was condescending, controlling, and coercive. Her in-authenticity caused division, derision, and dereliction on the team. I believed in the mission, vision and values of the organization, so I confronted her to tell her how her leadership was affecting the team. I was told “you don’t know what you don’t know” and “you don’t have the right to confront me.” After the 3rd failed confrontation with her, I decided to confront the President. He listened, but made the same retorts as my EVP. It was clear that the leadership did not align with the mission, vision, and values of the organization and shortly after I resigned and started my own business.
Over the years I’ve spoken to myriads of people who have gone through similar experiences. Authenticity is hard to find in leaders, because there’s poor philosophy that leaders have to be separate, elite, and better-than-you. This poor philosophy puts pressure on leaders and creates a tumultuous environment for employees. And what happens to organizations who have poor leadership philosophies? They lose the employees who care and willing to do whatever it takes for the organization to succeed.
People want to follow authentic people. They don’t want to follow someone who parades around like a hero unmatched. They want to follow someone who looks into their eyes and sees the best in them. They want a leader who cares more about their success than sharing their successes. They want a leader who admits their weaknesses and knows their strengths.
I’ve spend thousands of hours coaching, training, and speaking with leaders and here’s the reality—leaders are just people. They laugh, cry, sneeze, bleed, eat, sleep, and drink like everyone else. When I begin coaching with leaders, most of them feel tired, depressed, and alone because of poor leadership philosophies. So, we start by going through the 5 keys of Authentic Leadership.
1. Admit hurts, forgive them, and be positive
Most leaders are wounded, but don’t want to admit it. The fact is, if the organization is not set up properly leaders hear bad news 90% of the time. Some of the bad news: The markets changing, cash flow is low, the merger isn’t going as planned, the acquisition was put on hold, an employee is disgruntled, a project failed, and the list goes on. Leaders are never short of bad news, but most leaders aren’t authentic about how this hurts them emotionally, psychologically and physically. Most bury their hurts which turns into destructive behaviors. I encourage leaders to admit the truth. If it makes them mad, sad, or glad, admit it. Once they admit it I ask them to forgive whomever/whatever caused it. Then, I ask them to be positive about helping the team find a solution.
2. Know yourself
“Know thyself” was Socrates main message to his students. He believed in order to have a great perspective of the world a person had to know themselves. Leaders must know their strengths, weaknesses, fears, and passions. They have to know their own tendencies when facing fears, trials, and people. Leaders should take as many personality profile tests as possible. They should study the results in depth and focus on their strengths and think about how to utilize their teams to mitigate their weaknesses. Leaders should also journal. Journaling is a journey to the interior and self-discovery is a journey, not a destination.
3. Tell your team who you are
Once a leader has a fair knowledge of themselves, they need to tell their team who they are. It is vital for leaders to share their strengths, passions, weaknesses, pitfalls, and personality profiles with their teams. Leaders need to be vulnerable and allow their teams to see their hearts. It’s scary, but once a leader sees how their team reacts, they will never be the same.
4. Know your team
After a leader tells their teams who they are, it’s important they get to know their direct reports as deeply as they can. They should have their teams take as many personality profile tests as possible and share the results. They should create an environment that is honoring and free, where people can admit their hurts, forgive them, and be positive about finding solutions. Environments like this are only possible with authentic leaders.
5. Systematize strengths and passions
When leaders discover their team’s strengths and passions, they need to systematize and make sure their people are working at least 70% of their time in their strengths. This will exponentially increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Knowing yourself and others is important, but you must put the knowledge into action to enjoy the full benefits of authentic leadership.
Authenticity is key to increasing a leaders influence. It is also a key to connection. Leaders must know, understand, and practice authenticity if they will have a lasting effect. Poor leadership philosophy has produced so much fear, doubt, and worry in the marketplace. It is time to tear down these walls and to be open and free and create environments where people love going to work.