No Quick Fix Here: Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership

As I sit here on the sand of the Outer Banks soaking in the sun and listening to the wave’s crash, I feel this overwhelming need to discuss self-awareness.  I know what you’re thinking….and you’re right, I am doing some serious soul searching and meditation.  You see the reason that I am on this lovely beach is because I needed to get my creative juices flowing for my up and coming leadership development program called Leadership Foresight

The workaholic side of me planned this trip to get some serious “stuff” done.  As I prepared for this trip, I was in anxiety mode…I had so much that I wanted to get done in a small window of time.  I was determined to work, work, work and just crank it all out.  I carefully selected books to bring with me for research and articles that might spur a reaction in me.

My husband actually had to say to me, please take some time for you.  The notion of playing while on this trip just did not occur to me.  I was on a mission, but sitting here still on the beach and being alone with my thoughts is taking me to a place that I actually didn’t expect, but it is everything I could have hoped for….a clear mind and heart with no judgment or sense of urgency to make something more meaningful happen. 

I am what I like to call a recovering perfectionist.   What I was forgetting is that creative juices don’t really flow when you put that kind of pressure on yourself, especially when you are at the beach!  When I arrived, I quickly realized that I needed to give myself permission to just have fun and relax.  Let things come to me as it would and not force something. 

This trip was all about clearing my head and really focusing on creating something meaningful.  I wanted impact for the leaders who are going to be my audience but I found it for myself too.  My specialty is in leadership development so as I sit here thinking about changing my own perspective about this trip, I am pondering what could change a leader’s perspective on what it means to be present and share the best of their gifts and talent with the people who follow them.  What would it take to help them move more effortlessly through the challenges, anxiety and pressure that corporate life can bring.  I finally realized.  It is exactly what I am experiencing right now.  It’s time to reflect on who they are, what they want, how they want to show up in the world and what legacy they want to leave behind. 

The sad reality is, everywhere you look studies show less than desirable facts about the engagement levels of employees in Corporate America.   A Gallup study, State of the American Workplace, indicated the following:

  •  "Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold a full-time job, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged.  These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent.
  • The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged.  They’re just kinda present, but not inspired by their work or their manager."

You might say the majority of the world is working to live.  I am now on a mission to try to impact that notion and really dig in to help leaders groom a culture where people live to work, an environment where people get up every morning and work because they feel valued and can contribute to the bottom line.  You should check out the Gallup study to see more of the detail.  It is amazing how much money it costs an organization to have employees who are not engaged or actively disengaged.  Beyond that, it is amazing how much an organization will spend to train leaders to mitigate those numbers, yet it doesn't seem to be having the intended return on investment.

So how do I (WE) impact the engagement of our employees?  In my coaching practice one of the golden rules of my methodology is learning with authenticity.  What does that really mean?  Well, let me give you my definition.  I believe authenticity is actively seeking out knowledge about who you are…the good, bad and the ugly.  You have to own the fact that your thoughts, actions and beliefs are a compilation of every experience you've ever had.  Old leadership models and beliefs would tell you that you leave your personal life at home.  You don’t show emotion in the workplace because that is a sign of weakness. 

I wholeheartedly believe that if you try to compartmentalize who you are then you not only bring about stress and anxiety for yourself; you also confuse your team.  They see you not as you truly are, but as the mask that you wear.  This could equate to a lack of trust because it’s difficult to make a connection when you are “faking it”….thus leading to a huge hit on your credibility.  As a leader, people need to know you and you absolutely need to know them.  They need to understand who you are so they know what to expect.  Authentic leadership is taking the time to understand who you are and taking action with courage to bring others with you; being vulnerable.  If you are intentional about your vision or your message, good or bad, then people are more likely to follow you because they respect you.   They respect you because they FEEL respected.

If you’re freaking out right now, don’t worry.  I freaked out too when I decided to move away from the notion that you could become a GREAT leader in a 2-day training program.  What I also know is everyone loves a magic pill or a “how to” guide.  And why not….it’s simple and easy, right?  You just follow the instruction and check the boxes…and wham you’re good to go!  Well, not so much. 

Authentic leadership is hard.  It’s requires true effort and self-examination, but the payoff is so worth it.  It can change your life and the lives of those around you.  In today’s world there are so many cut-throat cultures.  It makes it hard to survive, let alone thrive.  Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, puts authenticity into perspective better than anyone I have researched thus far.  She says,

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

 Authenticity means

  • Cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
  • Nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.”

If as leaders, we could dig deep and understand that authentic leadership is a process and journey that actively requires effort then we could build the most amazing and productive teams.  I believe that we know “how” to lead.  Most leadership books and training program out there take you to the same place when it comes to the “how” of leadership.  It's cute to think that I could give you five easy steps and you would miraculously BE a great leader. If it were that easy, we would all be doing it.

So what’s going on?  Knowing how to be a great leader is one thing.  Authentically and intently putting things into practice is another.  Instead of purely focusing on what we need to do, maybe we should focus what's stopping us from doing the things we already know would engage and motivate our employees.

As we continue to take this journey together, my new leadership development program, Leadership Foresight, will be speaking directly to my signature model of Learning with Authenticity – Acting with Courage –Sharing with Intent.  It focuses on both the “how” component of leadership, but more importantly the “what’s holding you back” side.  It is an intense journey down the path to self-awareness so you can be the authentic leader your team is counting on. 

I challenge you now to make a conscious choice on how you want to “show up.” It's a choice we make every day. Together we can create a productive, healthy and fun workplace built on a strong foundation followership.  Help yourself and your teams thrive, not survive.

If you’re interested in my new program, Leadership Foresightcontact me today.  I am so excited about launching the first phase in August!!!

Also, if you’re interested in the work of Brene Brown cited earlier, you can pick up a copy from the New Dimensions Coaching Bookstore today.  I have to warn you though; it is nothing short of life changing.

Until next time, stay authentic, my friend!