The power of authentic leadership was captured in a 2007 study in HBR. The study—which polled over 100 business leaders, aged 23 to 95, chosen among their peer groups for being authentic—found that there was no single personal trait that made the leaders appear authentic to their peers.
Rather, they “were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned how being authentic made them more effective.”
Are you living a lie?
A lot of people fear being themselves because they feel they won’t be liked or accepted. If someone likes you when you are living a lie, he may stop associating with you when he finds out the real you; because sooner or later, truth reveals itself. By pretending to be someone you are not just for garnering attention, you are most likely to end up attracting the wrong people.
Not being yourself can also lead to a no-win situation. If you are not a genuine expression of yourself, the acclaim of your colleagues and your friends will amount to little. It is important that you like yourself first, and that can only happen if you allow yourself to be true to your inner being.
Authenticity is not just the key to a long-lasting career; it is the key to developing real, meaningful power
Costco co-founder and former CEO, Jim Sinegal, answered his own phone line, maintained a small office, paid himself a salary far lower than that of his peers and wore a nametag that simply said, “Jim”. This made him wildly popular with his employees, and left him with the lowest employee turnover rate in the retail industry.
McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc expected all employees to keep McDonald’s clean and did not exempt himself from the job—he picked up the garbage found in the parking lots of every McDonald’s outlet that he visited.
Authentic leadership is the only leadership that endures, because it exists as a function of the individual rather than a crowd of borrowed opinions.
The key to real power
Authenticity is not just the key to a long-lasting career; it is the key to developing real, meaningful power. Charisma, though an important quality of leadership, can lead to destructive behaviour if it’s not tethered to authentic values. Jordan Belfort [the stockbroker whose crimes were dramatised in the film, The Wolf of Wall Street] and Bernard Madoff used their charisma to swindle people out of their life’s savings. Both these men had power but it was not tethered to good, authentic values. Real power comes from authenticity.
If you want your success to be sustainable, if you want it to have a strong foundation, if you want it to have purpose and meaning, there is no other way than to be authentic.
Be careful about judging others because you do not know what they are going through
Your inner light shines through you when you are credible and trustworthy, and honest enough to admit to your limitations. The reality is that even with all your limitations, you are still unique and special. Embrace who you are, flaws and all. If you try to be someone else, you only become a ‘second-best someone’. As they say: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
Challenge yourself with the following ‘How to’ exercises:
ACCEPT and realise your imperfections. Shortcomings are part of who you are. Accepting this makes you powerful because now you can understand and relate to others. You will also be more open to feedback, guidance, and constructive criticism.
LIVE a life of honesty and integrity. It’s likely that you will succeed in some areas, but not in others. View every gap as an opportunity to grow.
KNOW that being different is good. Your USP comes from being different and unique. Achievers like Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and JK Rowling were often regarded as eccentric or reckless.
RADIATE confidence. When you are authentic, you can be confident that you are doing the right thing. You can also have confidence that the people in your life who are not aligned with you are not supposed to be in your life anyway.
BE non-judgemental. Be careful about judging others because you do not know what they are going through.
ADMIT mistakes and apologise because this builds trust. This may seem hard because we fear that we may appear incompetent. However, small inadequacies in life are normal and can be accepted by almost everyone. Dishonesty and cover-ups are far worse.
PRACTICE courage. Speak the truth and allow yourself to be vulnerable. For example, in a staff meeting, ask for help if you need it, ask a question, speak up about a concern you may have. Don’t worry about what others may think. By expressing yourself authentically, you inspire others in your team to be real and take timely action.
BE true to yourself. Before embarking on something, ask: Does this feel right to me? When you are true to yourself, you are generally true to others.
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