They do what they say and say what they do. Being authentic is one of the most difficult traits of leadership to bring out because it cannot be learned as a skill. It can only come through your own personal development. It’s about being uniquely you.
So how do you spot true authenticity and how do you develop authentic traits?
Own responsibility for their behaviour
Authentic leaders avoid the need for politics because they do not feel attacked as a person by other peoples silly games. Their personal inner strength and sense of OKness means they are willing to accept responsibility for their mistakes and their department errors because they are more interested in how they can improve a situation than in defending themselves.
They have a well developed sense of assertiveness that prevents other people from taking advantage of them and can say with confidence “that is my responsibility and that is yours”. From an employees perspective there is nothing more refreshing and inspiring than a leader owning up to the fact that they are human.
Consider other peoples feelings
“I’m just telling it like it is…” Whenever you hear that, you know they are missing out the vital bit – “for me”. There is no definitive “like it is”. It’s great to have strong views, but in order to be respected you also need to consider how you express those views. The ability to express your views in a way the respects other people is a real skill.
It involves knowing yourself and being able to see things from others’ perspectives. Almost anything can be said in a way that respects the other person, even in the most heated argument. To do this well you need to know yourself well and understand when other people will hit your buttons, as well as how you are perceived by others.
Do the behaviour they talk about
It is not enough to say that a certain behaviour is important to you, and expect other people to do it. Authentic people do the behaviour they talk about. If they say respect is important, they also act in a respectful way towards others. If you tell everyone else to be on time but don’t do it yourself, don’t expect people to see you as authentic.
Most people have “gaps” between what they say and what they do. This is because what we say is usually our “ideal” self, the aspiration of the person we would like to be, whereas how we actually behave in the day to day of life includes all our weaknesses and contradictions. This is even more apparent is we are under stress.
Fortunately this is fairly easy to address, become aware of your gaps between what you say and what you do and address them. Either don’t hold something rigidly that you don’t actually do – so stop talking about it, or explain to other people when there are exceptions. Nothing in life is black and white and most people will understand, even if you explain after the stressful event has passed.
Being authentic is not easy if you’ve worked in organisations that reward game playing and bullying type tactics, but that culture thankfully is changing and so there’s an opportunity now to step out of the old ways and become yourself at work. Remember, as a leader people do what you do, not what you tell them to do.
Karen Meager and John McLachlan are the co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and co-authors of Real Leaders for the Real World; The Essential Traits of Successful and Authentic Leaders (£12.99), which has received 5-star reviews and was awarded finalist in the International Book Awards.