There are many competencies associated with great leadership, and some take a lifetime to master. However, there is one important trait that every leader should be able to leverage without practice or experience – authenticity.
Being an authentic leader means being yourself. Growing up, whenever you faced a new challenge, your parents probably said: “just be yourself”. Turns out that is really great advice for leaders. While you may admire many leadership styles, you should adapt the one that fits your personality. Let your true self come through in how you make decisions, interact with others, etc. Here’s a real example from my career…
Years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a CEO, who in addition to being very smart and creative, was also a very down-to-earth, fun-loving guy. He liked nothing more than meeting employees and recognizing their accomplishments. As a result, he spent a lot of time giving speeches in front of large groups. Early on, he gave those speeches in a suit and tie, and stuck to the script, not to mention the podium. The results were pretty bland, and frankly, not very motivating. After awhile though, he gave up trying to be the CEO he thought others wanted him to be, and he started giving those speeches in logo wear and khakis, walking up and down the stage with great animation, improvising, laughing, and telling stories with passion and energy. He went back to being himself, and the results were phenomenal – all because his leadership style started to mirror his true personality.
Being authentic also means being your own person. In his book, Authentic Leadership (2003), Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, writes of the importance of being autonomous and independent, of finding your own voice as a leader. Over time, you may have to adapt your style to different situations, but you’ll have a familiar foundation of principles to fall back on, since your style is molded from your core personality.
There have been many great leaders down through the years, and all have had very different styles. Create a leadership style that works well for you, one that reflects your personality, character and values. If you’re being yourself, you never have to worry about “how to behave” as a leader – simply follow your instincts and do what feels comfortable to you. You’ll find that being an authentic leader is the easiest way for you to be an effective leader.