You don’t have to be a seasoned entrepreneur or mid-career high performer to be an authentic leader. Even if you’ve just launched your first startup or your budding C-suite career path, you can put the principles of authentic leadership into practice. If you’re interested in reducing friction with your team members and fostering a more positive workplace culture, adopt these four practices to become the authentic leader the people around you need.
Forget about trying to motivate employees and colleagues with profits alone. Today’s most inspirational CEOs and executives are leveraging something else to help their brands stand out: authentic leadership.
In 2019, Brooks Running CEO Jim Weber shared what he felt were the three basic characteristics of authentic leadership during a commencement address at his collegiate alma mater. Those traits were curiosity, focus, and, perhaps most important of all, trust.
Such simple-sounding attributes, yet they can be deceptively hard to master — especially trust. However, as Weber writes, “People are looking for someone they can trust.” In other words, it’s worth trying to increase your authenticity factor if you want to motivate workers, investors, or consumers.
If you’re interested in reducing friction with your team members and fostering a more positive workplace culture, adopt the following practices. Each will help you become the authentic leader the people around you need.
- Temper your boldness with humility.
You wouldn’t have gotten to where you were without some confidence. That said, don’t let confidence or boldness be your undoing. Instead, temper your intensity and drive with an old-fashioned dose of humility.
Michael Hamburger, CEO of digital marketing agency Ezzey, says that a leader’s role is to take bold chances and step out in front of those they lead. At the same time, he tries to spread the wins and kudos. He recommends accentuating the strengths of your team to build your credibility as an authentic leader. “Allow them to shine, and give the credit and accolades to them,” he advises. “A real leader doesn’t have to stand in the spotlight; they stand behind it.”
If humility doesn’t come naturally to you, practice a few skills to increase your modesty and decrease your need for laurels. For instance, listen to others and show sincere gratitude publicly and privately. You may even want to ask a trusted friend to let you know when your pride is taking over. That way, you can rein it in before it becomes your undoing.
- Show others that you’re open to alternative perspectives.
Sometimes, the buck will stop with you, and you’ll have to make decisions on the spot. Not always, though. When you have some time to come up with choices, talk to others. Ask for their perspectives. Then, use what you learn and hear to guide your problem-solving.
You might be surprised at how powerful requesting feedback can be. One research study examined by Workhuman showed a strong correlation between asking for feedback and being effective as a leader. Essentially, leaders who fell into the 86th percentile in terms of effectiveness tended to also be in the top 10% of those who solicited feedback.
Again, it’s not necessary or reasonable to crowdsource every issue. Use your judgment depending upon the situation. But don’t lapse into a pattern of acting as if you don’t need anyone else’s insights — because your strongest performers may take that as a sign to go elsewhere.
- Share the right kind of personal stories at the right time.
We’ve all been subjected to leaders who fancied themselves motivational storytellers but always fell flat because their stories were too self-absorbed. To be authentic, you have to understand which personal stories to share and when to share them.
Not sure when to speak up with an anecdote about yourself? Follow Kelly Labrecque’s lead. The BetterUp fellow coach says: “The key is to use common sense and not overdo it. A leader sharing a personal story of triumph in a moment where the team is struggling can be inspirational. A leader sharing a personal story at every team meeting that other members cannot relate to or have a personal stake in might be perceived as narcissistic.”
In time, you’ll find it easier to understand when it’s time to chime in and when it’s time to keep silent. Remember to pay attention to your peers’ moments of storytelling, too. You can learn a lot about proper timing by observing other authentic (and not-so-authentic) leaders’ narration styles.
- Identify and uphold your values.
McKinsey’s findings reveal that 70% of employees gain a sense of purpose from their work. When you’re an authentic leader, you can help your workers uncover and explore their purpose. The only catch is that you have to know your own purpose and corresponding values first. To find your North Star, answer the big questions: Why are you leading your company? How would you describe your ethical code? What drives you to keep going, even through the most challenging moments? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be able to develop a values-driven framework to shepherd everything you do.
Once you’ve pinpointed what matters most to you, start applying a values “litmus test” to your actions. It shouldn’t be long before you feel more genuine — and being genuine is an attractive quality in a CEO, founder, or executive.
You don’t have to be a seasoned entrepreneur or mid-career high performer to be an authentic leader. Even if you’ve just launched your first startup or your budding C-suite career path, you can put the principles of authentic leadership into practice. And the earlier you get started, the more ingrained it becomes.
Written by Rhett Power.
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