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C-Suite Advisory

3 Signs You’re an Authentic Leader

A wise person once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” This is such an obvious and simple statement, yet so many of us struggle with being our authentic selves. We pretend to be someone else to guard against our insecurities or perceived inadequacies.

But when a person—especially a leader—is inauthentic, others notice. And the consequences can be dire. Your people will not trust, like, or admire you. Engagement and productivity will likely suffer.

Being authentic takes work. It takes consistency. It takes self-awareness and knowing your purpose and values. It takes honesty to yourself and others. My grandfather always told me, “Tell the truth; that way you don’t have to remember what you said.”

If you wonder if you’re being honest with yourself and others (aka authentic), consider these three signs.

Your actions line up with your purpose statement.  

Many leaders have a purpose statement—a declarative sentence which summarizes your specific topic and goals. If you don’t have one, you should. A purpose statement acts as a standard to which you can measure your daily actions. There are many reasons why we might not be totally true to ourselves. A common one is the belief that if we portray ourselves as something other than who we really are, we will be seen as more desirable or popular. But inauthentic people almost always get discovered. Just think of once well-respected journalist Brian Williams misleading people about being shot down in a helicopter during the Iraq War. He was found out, and lost his job along with the credibility he built up over the length of his career.

By being true to yourself, to your purpose statement, you are living your authentic life. Everything you do has a purpose. No longer do you have to walk the road of being the victim or victor of chance. You are making the rules and living by them every day.

You don’t tell too many jokes. 

Many people tell jokes not to make people laugh, but to gain affection. It’s well documented in the field of comedy and professional comedians that many are seeking love and approval through their acts. There can be a price to pay, however, for telling too many jokes. Humor can be a powerful tool in building relationships, but if a leader lacks the ability to be serious, then team members will not feel like they can confide in them. Even worse, some people may be offended by the leader’s jokes.

Organizational development research has found that leaders who are overly humorous tend to be viewed as less trustworthy. Other research found that leaders who laugh at themselves but not at underlings or colleagues strike the right balance in building relationships with team members without alienating them. If you tend to be a class clown, reflect on why you’re telling jokes in the first place.

Your people trust you. 

To tell if your people trust you, ask yourself these questions: Does your team tell you when they did something wrong, if they are struggling, or whether they need help? Do they share with you about experiences in their personal life? Do you have interactions with them that are beyond transactional? If you answered “yes” to these questions, that is a sign that your people trust you.

Let’s look at the trust issue on a tactical level, and at a very specific tool that can increase your trustworthiness and, by extension, your authenticity. There are a lot of books and articles on trust and undoubtedly some good definitions. But really, the definition of trust is simple. Trust between two or more people is simply “expectations met or unmet.” Generally, if you repeatedly do what you say you will do, others will find you to be trustworthy. The opposite is also true.

If you wonder how to be trustworthy, consider these tips:

  1. Make agreements you intend to keep.
  2. Be clear on the agreement you are making or keeping.
  3. If you have to break the agreement, let the person know as soon as possible.
  4. If you do break an agreement, try to remedy the situation immediately.

Did you come up short? Did not all three of these signs apply to you? That’s okay! It’s never too late to start living your authentic self.

Start today with this simple exercise: Put your name at the top of a sheet of paper. Now write down five to seven descriptive words that describe how you want others to see you when you are completely authentic. This can serve as a guideline for you in your day-to-day dealings with others.

After you have mastered the clarity of who you want to be and who you currently are, then you’re on your way to being an authentic leader who is effective and impactful.

“I never wanted to be like somebody. I wanted to be the first me, not the next somebody else.” —Danica Patrick


Written by David E. Nielson. His book 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success is available now on Amazon.

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David E. Nielson
David E. Nielson, CEO of DNA Worldwide, brings over three decades of global, corporate, Fortune 500, and private consulting experience in organizational change management, leadership development, and training. His book 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success is available now on Amazon. David is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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