Authenticity in leadership has gotten renewed attention lately and been the subject of some serious debate. “Authenticity” is one of those words that sounds wonderful, but is hard to pin down. After all, nobody woke up this morning saying, “I think I’ll go be inauthentic today.” But what does it actually mean to be authentic, and how can you be more of it?
I recently read a post from Harvard Business School Professor and former CEO Bill George that listed five qualities of authentic leaders, and then went on to discuss at least six more. Avolio and Gardner’s research covers as many as 29 components. And I’m pretty sure one of the assessments floating out there has 32 items.
If you’re like the rest of the human race, you can’t change five or 11 or 32 things at once. In fact, most of us are hard pressed to change a single thing about our behavior. And that’s if we’re clear on what needs to change. When researchers present terms like “value congruence” and “positive social exchanges,” I’m not sure the typical leader even knows where to start.
So, in this age of posts like, “12 Keys to Being a Better Leader,” I respectfully offer something more attainable:
The 1 Thing You Should Do to Lead More Authentically
Start telling people what you really think and feel.
Now, you may be thinking, “Man! I read half of a blog post for that? Thanks, Sean!” Just bear with me for a moment. Ask yourself how much time and energy leaders in your organization spend trying to cover up what they think and feel.
Do your leaders:
- Try to “be positive” all the time?
- Think it’s unprofessional to show any emotion other than excitement?
- Believe they have to keep their real feelings hidden or risk having them used against them?
- Hold back from saying what they think because they believe others won’t be able to handle it?
No matter what definition of authenticity you choose, it’s hard to imagine we’ll get there if we keep checking so much of ourselves at the door. We’re not fooling anyone. Organizations are full of people pretending to think and feel things they don’t – and pretending they don’t notice everyone else is doing it too. What an amazing waste of time and energy! It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every unfiltered thought and feeling should come out without warning. Authenticity isn’t a license to be tactless or hurtful, and organizational politics can be tricky. However, that can’t stop us from making progress. Our organizations are stalled because critical issues go unaddressed and we convince ourselves that it can’t change. But there are productive ways to get a lot more out on the table than you think.
So, pick someplace and just start. Where would sharing more of your true thoughts help you get unstuck at work?
Sean Kennedy has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 corporations to develop their leaders. He has extensive experience designing development programs to transform organizational capability and drive corporate strategy. In addition to supporting Cambridge´s clients, Sean collaborates with our senior team on learning strategy and the evolution of our program portfolio. Sean previously worked for 15 years at Harvard Business Publishing and was instrumental in building its Corporate Learning practice.