As organisations confront a constantly changing future mixed with uncertainty and opportunity, they need leaders willing to embrace who they are and be comfortable not having all the answers. In short, they need to be authentic.
Bain’s The Firm of the Future report outlined the shifts to the existing paradigms underpinning businesses. Much of this still holds today, despite the changes of the last 12 months.
Adapting and responding to this shifting environment requires a greater level of self-awareness and the capacity to leverage your strengths and mitigate any limitations.
Leaders leverage their strengths
For years, research has shown the benefits accrued when leaders play to their strengths.
2010 research by Linley, Nielsen, Wood, Gillett and Biswas-Diener found that people who used their strengths to achieve goals were far more likely to secure them. In doing this, they were also happier and more satisfied with the result.
However, when people think of strengths, they often focus on their technical skills. And yet, it is their level of self-awareness – their deep understanding of who they are and what they stand for and their awareness of their impacts on others that will unlock their leadership success.
Authenticity is key
Self-awareness is the pre-cursor to authentic leadership. Research shows that when a person stops being their authentic self, it causes psychological distress, which can have ongoing emotional and physical ramifications.
Maryam Kouchaki, from Kellogg School, Francesca Gino of Harvard and Adam Galinsky from Columbia University found being inauthentic comes at a cost as it makes us feel immoral. Kouchaki said: “We shouldn’t overlook the psychological distress that comes with inauthentic behaviour.”
Being inauthentic also impacts how people perceive and relate to you. For example, colleagues and teammates will see when you shift and change your behaviour and ideas. They’ll notice the disconnect between what you say and what you do.
This authenticity gap breeds distrust – placing your credibility and integrity in doubt. Once that happens, it becomes far more challenging to build a coalition of support for ideas and projects you are leading.
In contrast, when you are authentic and stand behind your values, have a clear personal brand and a consistent and transparent leadership style, it is far easier for people to connect and build a long-lasting relationship.
Accepting the unknowns
Authentic leaders recognise their limitations and accept they don’t have all the answers.
They understand that a by-product of operating in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world is many unknowns. These unknowns make it more critical than ever to seek advice, collaborate effectively, and create a culture where it’s OK to challenge and ask questions.
When people don’t feel safe speaking up and out, issues go underground, and facts get distorted. The voice of the silent minority gets squashed. Ideas or opinions that need we need to hear go unheard.
Authentic leaders encourage different ideas and diverse opinions. They welcome debate and questions. They seek to learn from those around them.
Finding your way
There have been some brilliant books written about the steps you can take to identify your purpose and help assess the congruence you have with how you live your life. Bill George’s True North: Discover your authentic leadership is one example. It is worth reading as it takes you through a series of exercises you can do to uncover what matters to you and lead more authentically.
As American Philosopher, Henry David Thoreau once said “We are constantly invited to be who we are.”
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.