The Authentic Vision for Success
Who we are is how we lead.
“Authenticity” is a popular buzzword these days, and a dozen different experts have defined it a dozen different ways. But for me, it comes back to that one phrase: who we are is how we lead.
If who we are is how we lead, the cliche “just be yourself” might actually be the best advice for someone striving to achieve authentic leadership. But who is this self we need to just be? If we don’t put the effort into finding out who we truly are, we may as well push the pause button on our career.
The way we “unmask” ourselves and find out who we really are comes through self-awareness, introspection, and self-reflection–all fundamental elements of successful leadership. As we continue to develop a heightened self-awareness we will find ourselves more effective in life and as leaders. We will be aware of our strengths, emotions, and weaknesses, while possessing the courage to act transparently and ethically. We will passionately pursue goals while maintaining core personal principles. And we will never be fake, especially not toward or in front of our employees.
You Are Not An Actor
It never fails to astound me when I see a leader make an almost physical transformation as they walk through the doors of their workplace. In just a few moments, they completely alter their persona, down to the expression on their face, as though being the CEO is a daily acting role that airs commercial-free during business hours. This glaring lack of authenticity instantly creates a disconnect between a leader and his or her employees, undermining trust and weakening morale. Of course, there is nothing wrong with defining the way you’re perceived at work, but exceptional leaders design that perception from their authentic values and personality, not an act they feel they must put on to present a particular face to the world. Authentic leaders never forget where they came from or who they are, and they aren’t afraid to show those things openly.
Employees respond positively and are more engaged when they are led by someone who knows exactly who they are – someone who remembers the issues they have overcome and has learned how to embrace their true self while capitalizing on their personal strengths and weaknesses. They want a leader they can respect, who works toward self-improvement, shows human vulnerability alongside hard-nosed business sense, knows when words and actions can be destructive and avoids those scenarios, and shows true dedication not just to the business but to those who work for it.
Imperfect But Genuine
If I had to sum up all of that with one attribute that I believe embodies what an authentic leader is, I would say it is genuineness. Integrity. Being exactly who you say you are and show yourself to be. That genuineness allows for every single person in your organization to know exactly where they stand with you, their leader. Your work day will not be disrupted with silly hidden agendas or mind games, because you are transparent enough to share the real agenda – the one with real and measurable outcomes. I am willing to show my employees the good, the bad, and even the ugly if the information is appropriate to share. As a leader, it is essential I instill trust in my staff and that trust will never come if I am trying to change my behavior or hide who I am. My team doesn’t expect me to be perfect as a leader, but they do expect me to guide with a genuine, focused vision.
As an empowered and authentic leader, you must let personal values drive you and be comfortable in presenting all parts of yourself, even at the risk of being imperfect. I am not about to tell you this is easy. Historically, leaders are trained to be tough and invulnerable. But it is this type of business leader who creates a productive environment at work, with employees who are willing to take risks because they genuinely want to please and succeed for their leader. So while mastering an authentic self can be arduous, it is a challenge worth fighting for in order to have a successful business.
A recent poll showed Mark Zuckerberg continues to be one of the world’s most beloved CEO’s. Why do his employees love him so much? Well for one, employees reportedly feel empowered by him and part of an organization that is legitimately attempting to change the world in a positive way. His commitment to the company vision is palpable and demonstrated through fearless actions and intelligent decisions. Conversely, look at Sears’ Edward Lampert, who is rated poorly by employees and shareholders alike, and thought to be the main source of a widespread company culture breakdown with all stores lacking morale. Lampert reportedly discourages employee feedback on a regular basis and lacks the ability to establish any connected relationships.
Many people in a position of power, or who are involved in high level work, can develop what is known as imposter syndrome. This phenomenon describes high-achieving people who don’t believe they deserve their own success. In their minds, these people got where they are by accident or luck, and they are constantly afraid they’ll be exposed as a fraud. Usually impostor syndrome shows up when you first enter a situation that’s both successful and outside your comfort zone–getting promoted to CEO, for instance. You may fear that despite your great performance record so far, you’re actually not good enough for this new role. You may struggle with anxiety, choke during important moments, wrestle with indecision, need validation from those around you, and lack confidence in yourself as a leader. Unaddressed, imposter syndrome can torpedo your career.
This is where self-awareness and authentic leadership comes in. When we understand that who we are is how we lead, we also understand that each new day will bring new learning experiences and new challenges. We will be doing things we have never done before. We will acquire new skills and make new mistakes. We will become stronger, more capable people who are better able to lead than we were a week or a month or a year ago. And we’ll do these things because we know we can. Instead of fearing our faults or shortcomings will be found out, we’ll embrace those things as parts of ourselves and learn to lead with them. Instead of relying on others to provide validation, we’ll find our own validation in the successes of those around us. Impostor syndrome, we’ll find, falls in the face of taking action. Only when we freeze can fear control us.
Authentic leadership entails planning – from beginning to end. Be prepared to overcome obstacles that arise because you are in this for the long haul. Above all, remember that who you are is how you lead. So when you design your vision, your legacy, your plans for success, draw those things from who you are. Whether it’s your visionary insight, your strength in exerting influence, your ability to create real, lasting change, your unwavering integrity, or all of these, if it comes from your authentic self it will naturally lead to sustained business growth.
Christien Louviere, CEO – SellPersonal
“Note From the CEO” is a weekly editorial from Christien Louviere about the challenges CEOs and Founders have to overcome to in order thrive. To have these emailed to you each week, please subscribe here.