Authentic Leadership Starts With Self-Awareness

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Over my career I’ve been disappointed by many leaders. Why? Well because many got my attention with their words and then lost me with their follow-through. I have come to believe that authentic leadership, because it comes out of a deep self awareness, can only be measured when observed and tested over time.

And yet it seems we are too lazy to take the time and we rarely look for real or meaningful authenticity and instead gravitate to the appearance of it. I just look to how people project themselves on social media or how candidates for significant roles of leadership seem to focus more on the surface feelings of authenticity than the reality of what being authentic requires.

“Authentic leaders frame their stories in ways that allow them to see themselves not as passive observers but as individuals who learn from their experiences.” –  HBR, (George, Sims, McLean, Mayer) 2007

An authentic leader is one who is able to recognize her or his strengths as well as short comings. An authentic leader is one who lives an examined life ready to challenge assumptions and beliefs and recognize when an apology or course correction is warranted.

In this week’s episode of ImpactBank’s the Kickass Koach we begin a series discussing ImpactBank’s signature leadership on-boarding system called “ON YOUR MARK…” The system starts with a focus on your foundation as a leader. Your foundation is rooted in your degree of self-awareness – to really make a difference and be an leader of influence and impact you MUST start with a firm appreciation for who you are, what informs your thinking – your starting place. A leader who has examined her or his foundation is better equipped to lead others forward in a sustainable way.

“A leader’s self awareness and ability to accurately perceive his (or her) performance is as important as the feedback (s)he receives from others.” – Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intellegence (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee)

The ON YOUR MARK… series starts with an emphasis on authentic leadership. Strength is valued in leaders and strength blossoms in you when you are willing to do the work to continue to discover your authentic voice and presence. In preparing the foundation for ON YOUR MARK…™, I struggled to consider what it meant to be authentic. In Episode 55 I explore my own patterns of behavior that caused me to examine my own experience with living and engaging authentically.

Three lessons (there were many more) I learned from examining my own stories and the clear patterns of behavior that were illuminated.

  1. Authentic Leadership is as much about observing the impact you are having on those experiencing your leadership and adjusting accordingly as it is about being true to your own values and vision. This may, at first, feel counter intuitive because it is focused on adjusting to the needs of others. Think about it this way. You need to connect to get anything done. You believe in what you’re working to accomplish. You care about and believe in the people who help you move your vision forward. You want to make your vision, ideas and strategy more accessible. So isn’t your authenticity as a leader directly tied to your willingness to dig deeply into your own stories, your own motivations, values, passions….to find the best way to make those real for your direct reports. You are the leader. It is your responsibility to do that work so you can be effective.
  2. Authentic Leadership is not static – it is a dynamic way of being and seeing in the world. In other words, your inner dig is never done. As rich and wondrous as the external world is, there is just as much to discover within so an authentic leader must be continuously curious, willing to learn more and more about her or himself.
  3. Authentic Leadership requires a Growth Mindset open to continuous learning and growth first as a human being and second in the role of leadership. How is this different than #2? An authentic leader can not be a navel gazer! As much as you dig deeply to better understand your own drives, inclinations, assumptions, beliefs and so on, you must also be curious about the external. Open to learning and hearing the perspectives and feedback from others.

Practicing these three lessons has proved to provide some uncomfortable insights. As I often say, when you get comfortable being uncomfortable, your leadership muscle is getting  great work-out.

So three questions for you to consider this week:

  1. What patterns can you see in yourself that reveal your struggle with being authentic? Look back over your life and career to find those patterns. (If you need help looking for these consider listening to Episode 55 again wherein I share one of my patterns.)
  2. Consider how you could be more open to a different perspective or a position that is contrary to your own even if just to test a conclusion or decision you have made?
  3. What are your Learning Goals this year? Are these goals requiring you to feel a bit uncomfortable? If not, revisit the goals.

NEXT WEEK: We’ll continue on the deep dive inward and explore the importance of knowing yourself without getting caught-up in a practice of navel gazing.

Check out ImpactBank’s the Kickass Koach on iTunes, Libsyn or Google Play and book mark it so you don’t miss an episode. If you have listened to 2 or more episodes please leave a review on iTunes.


How can I help?

Are you relatively new in a senior role in an organization and realizing you could do better?


Are you about on-board a senior leader and want to support their success?

Contact me for a no-obligation conversation to see if ImpactBank’s signature services are a good fit to help.

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