Which of these words resonates with you? Adaptability, boldness, credibility, genuine, honesty, integrity, openness, predictability, resilience and self-awareness.
When the question “what does authentic leadership mean to you?” was posed to a group of senior women leaders from Bristol-Myers Squibb at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women that’s how they responded. All very strong words. How would you answer that question?
Bill George, author of Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, defines authentic leaders as people with:
- The highest integrity who are committed to building lasting organizations.
- A deep knowledge of their core values and a strong sense of purpose.
- The courage to build organizations to meet the needs of all of their stakeholders and who recognize the importance of their service to society.
Showing that you embrace an authentic leadership style creates a working atmosphere built on openness, trust and positivity. This model tends to create both high performing individuals and teams who know that you value their input.
As a leader it boils down to a combination of believing in your core values and self-awareness. Committing to values that you believe in and being aware enough to know when they’re guiding you and when they’re not is key.
The Honesty Mirror
Authentic leadership doesn’t just happen – it’s built upon your life stories. How you process your experiences shapes how authentic you are as a leader. Think about it – if you take time to reflect upon an event that has occurred and as a result grow from it your level of authenticity is going to be much higher than if you ignore what has occurred. Denial is a huge obstacle in searching for self-awareness.
Picture yourself standing in front of a mirror – in your reflection you see all of your own actions. You can’t hide from those actions just like you can’t hide from the wrinkles around your eyes. The more true you are to what you see, the more you’ll grow from experiences you have had.
A Moment of Truth
A few months ago I had an experience with a friend that has become an authentic leadership “ah ha” moment for me.
My friend was following her life’s dream to write a book. I was supportive and proud of her as so many people say they’re going to do something but never put it into action. But I was at odds with the topic as the subject matter not only conflicted with my core values but also with what I do professionally and as a volunteer– it was not positioning women in positive way. I was in a quandary as I wanted to be supportive but I found I couldn’t do it openly – namely on social media which is what she asked me to do.
My less-experienced self would have ignored the situation as much as possible. But the wiser I have gotten the more I knew I had to stay true to myself. I had to confront it head on (something that leaders may not want to do but know they need to do every day).
I called my friend (I couldn’t hide behind email) and began the conversation on a positive note by saying how proud I was of her checking something off her bucket list. As I transitioned I knew that I needed to couch my feelings in facts related to my core values and my work. I explained to her that what she was writing about was contrary to my mission of advancing women’s leadership. After a dialogue where I held to my values she thanked me for sharing my feelings so that she could better understand them.
I learned that it may not be easy to confront friends (or colleagues), but it was much easier to look myself in the mirror after doing so. In fact it made me feel stronger for having taken that risk – it was like adding another tool to my tool kit. Leaders who can apply learning from their experiences are better equipped to face the unknown challenges that may lie ahead. Be open to where you may find these experience – they may not all happen in an office setting.
There’s a reason why it’s called “leadership development.” As the name implies it’s an ongoing process. What you learn from that process shapes who you are as an authentic leader.