Elevating Leadership Series: Authentic Leadership

Authenticity in Leadership

By KENNY HYMAN

In a leadership environment so impacted by Great Man Theory, many leaders find themselves trying to emulate more successful leaders. While there is wisdom in following the anecdotes and guidance of more experienced and more successful leaders, one shouldn’t do it at the expense of the self.

Somebody far smarter and far wiser said: “I’d rather be hated for who I am than to be loved for who I’m not.” The insight here is simple: be you, be the best you, but be you, not someone else.

Now, I’m in no way, shape, or form implying that leaders should position themselves to be hated. What I am saying, however, is that leaders must be themselves, and not be someone else entirely—a made up person for the sake of leadership.

Perhaps you aspire to be like your first shift manager, your father, your mother, your sport’s coach, your math teacher, or a great general from history. Your fondness of the individual’s impact and your desire to be as impactful are truly admirable indeed; however, you must understand that the leader whom you idolize isn’t perceived as great because he or she decided to portray another leader, but rather because of the person he or she is, the effort they put in, and the things they accomplished. It is what that leader did and what’s on the inside that made him or her great and authentic.

Authentic leadership, thus, is value-based. The style is drawn from our personal narrative of experiences and life events. Our narrative gives meaning to our leadership; it’s how we connect and how others connect with us. Trying to portray another leader—an  entirely different person—can be detrimental to authenticity. I, for example, greatly admire and desperately want to be like the cool, soft-spoken leaders for whom I have worked. I greatly admire their ability to say very little but have their words carry so much weight. I also greatly admire their abilities to appear unaffected by the tensest of situations. I take a cue from their behavior and style and implement their actions into my own. But, I can only implement so much before my personnel, my peers, and superiors start to look at me weird. They all know that I’m intense and fiery. They all know that I bring passion to mundane situations and that I infuse even the most draining circumstance with energy. Trying to be the silent type comes off as artificial and disingenuous.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a license for me to misbehave has a leader, allowing for personality extremes on the pretense of I need to be me—misbehavior is never acceptable. On the contrary, it is a love-letter to the capabilities that I bring to the leadership table. And, what you bring to the leadership table is also a love-letter.

Regardless of your personality, you bring something special to leadership and you have many leaders before you that you can reference to assist and guide you in how to employ the self to build a rapport in your workplace.

Components of Authentic Leadership:

Interpersonal – This component suggests that authenticity grows with interaction between a leader and a team member. Perhaps it’s developed by consistent involvement between parties or perhaps it’s developed by one hugely impactful event. But from the interaction, a leader increases his or her value to his or her subordinates.

Intrapersonal – It’s just something about this leader that subordinates buy–something on the inside. The leader is respected and made authentic by his or her morals, expertise, wisdom, and/or self-regulation. Subordinates admire and look up to the leader–the leader is an example of leadership and of excellence.

Developmental – This component suggests that the growth of a leader increases the value and the authenticity of his or leadership. Subordinates often draw inspiration from the journey of their leader’s development. An age-old trope is the hero’s journey. Our heroes are fictional leaders, like King Arthur and Luke Skywalker, to whose action we aspire. They grow as they go from a commoner to undisputed leader, and we are inspired by that growth. The same goes for our leaders in real life.

The components of authentic leadership illustrate that authenticity is grown through interaction. It’s vital that we understand what makes us authentic and strive to take the time to grow.

I’ll leave you with this: authenticity takes time. How much time? However much time it takes. Once upon a time, my Executive Officer, Commander Joe Arleth, offered me an indispensable nugget regarding authentic leadership. He said, “It takes about ten years to get ten years of experience.”

So simple. Yet, utterly brilliant.

So be patient.

Be you.

Keep leading!

-Kenny

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