What happens when you get where you think you want to be, only to realize it is not the right place...or you find yourself compromising your values or passions to succeed in a new more senior position? If you are a leader and have not experienced something similar, hold on to your boots, you probably will. Is the school of hard knocks the only option? Many of us have a graduate degree in learning from failure, which is OK. As John Maxwell says, “success stands on top of a pile of failures”.
Although I have not found a way to eliminate mistakes (and frankly do not think we would ever want to, as it a good teacher) I do believe there is a way to help leaders navigate through moves and decisions that maybe less painful. The “new” title given to this sort of awareness is authentic leadership. Often, leaders, through years of experience develop this but it has not been defined with a name until recently. The book , “True North” by Bill George and summarizes what I had been personally striving for as a leader. Throughout the last few years, I have engaged in much of what I have learned through this process as well as coaching others to their own personal authentic leadership style. If you have read the book, you will notice some of George’s passion threaded throughout this article. We have tried for many years to develop the perfect model for leadership but the truth is, leaders come in all shapes and sizes. That is because we are all different and bring our own set of experiences, personalities and passions into our leadership.
Certainly, we can learn from other’s experiences but we cannot live through and lead through another’s experiences. In the book titled “The Enemy Called Average” was the quote, “we are all born originals but most die carbon copies”. Others can mentor and influence your authentic leadership style but only you can determine what it is. There is only one you with your personality inspired by you unique set of life experiences. Although there may be other people like you, only you have lived your life.
A leader can develop their authentic leadership by focusing on seven areas: self awareness, personal values, balancing extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, developing a trustworthy support team, staying grounded, integrating life and empowering others to lead.
Being self aware is not as easy as it may appear. Self awareness is birthed out of one’s own life story and how their story affects their leadership. Often leaders do not tap into this goldmine of discovery. They may not go through this process for several reasons. Some of these reasons may include: not knowing how, lack of understanding in the value of their life story, it is too painful or they are unwilling to invest the time. This journey is worth the investment however. A study from Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council recommended self awareness as the most important capability for leader’s to develop. Learning your authentic leadership will require not only honesty but also courage. The process can begin in through different areas of self discovery such as: writing out your story and listening to feedback to more formal methods such as: 360 profiles, personality profiles, strength finder and emotional intelligence.
Reflecting on and learning from your life story is the starting point. One’s personal life story allows a leader to better understand themselves. It also opens their eyes to their passions, values and principles. Reviewing life experiences that go back as far as can be remembered encourages a leader to discover what drives their passions and then learn how to channel that passion to their own leadership. The difficult challenges faced in life often define who a leader is and give direction to what they will become. A leader’s understanding of their values becomes even more relevant when tested under pressure. Having a strong foundation of values that are tried under fire enables a leader to develop the principles they will apply in leading others.
A leader’s values help them to gain insight to their motivations both intrinsically and extrinsically. The common response in measuring a leader’s success is extrinsically. When the measuring stick for success is the “world’s view” it creates a void that is never satisfied. This view encompasses tangible things such as: money, home, cars, titles, etc. The challenge is that these things are not sustainable and more often than not leave a leader unfulfilled with lack of meaning in life. Intrinsic motivations on the other hand lead the person to pursue more meaningful success that is congruent with their values thus balancing the fulfillment of their extrinsic motivations. Discovering both your extrinsic and intrinsic motivation takes self evaluation, honesty and a willingness to explore how to bring balance between the two.
Leaders cannot succeed on their own. It takes support and advice. Authentic leaders build a support team to help them stay focused. This team provides feedback, balanced perspective and has earned the right to speak into the leader’s life. They will help with focus and correction when the leader needs it. This support group also gives a leader a group of individuals to authentically be themselves with and to rely on to coach and challenge them. This group may consist of peers, family, colleagues, mentors and/or friends.
Staying grounded as a leader can be a challenge. Leaders that are able to integrate all areas of their life find the journey to authenticity become a reality. True authenticity comes when a leader is balanced and consistent in work, faith, family, community and friends. The challenge is balancing effective leadership at work and maintaining a strong personal life. Those who achieve authentic leadership are constantly working to maintain balance and stay grounded through holistic lives. This allows for accountability, spending time with family and close friends, physical exercise, community service and a commitment to spiritual practices, remembering where you came from, what values drive your values and passions – all allowing authenticity to be sustainable.
Once a leader has worked through self awareness (which is an on going challenge), they now have earned the right of passage (so to speak) to empower others to lead. Authentic leaders create a culture of trust and loyalty. This culture enables the leader’s organization to retain and attract top talent that aligns team members with shared values and goals. Team members are inspired at all levels to step up and lead and/or take on greater challenges. Thus, authentic leaders are able to produce sustainable results for themselves and their organization for a long term period. At MSBCoach, we are dedicated to coaching leaders to become authentic leaders. For more information please contact us at: .