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The Art of Authentic Leadership

The Art of Authentic Leadership

All too often, leaders believe that the key to success is to present a manufactured corporate persona. They believe they need to portray that they have all the answers, they don’t make mistakes, and they can never let their teams see them sweat. But let’s face it – nobody is perfect, so why should we impose perfection on leaders? 

The truth is, leadership is more of an art than a science, and it involves authenticity. Exceptional, authentic leaders can inspire trust and loyalty in their team members by being true to themselves.  Authentic leaders can relate to others by finding common ground and presenting different facets of their personality to different audiences without faking it or being insincere. They know which personality traits they should reveal and when, just are like chameleons, adapting to each situation without losing their identities. They know how to unlock every employee’s potential and know leadership is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Most importantly, authentic leaders build a culture of transparency and growth; they know that mistakes are bound to happen and encourage their team to take risks and innovate to find a solution. Ultimately, authentic leaders embody the message that it is OK to be human in the workplace. 

The Integration of Emotional Intelligence in Authentic Leadership 

You may have heard of the common saying, “Can you talk the talk and walk the walk?”; this demonstrates perfectly what authentic leadership really is.  Authentic leaders stay true to their words and can execute their ambitions. The art of authentic leadership is to tap into your emotional intelligence competencies, as these skills will shape your leadership style. Some of the guiding principles of emotional intelligence are being self-aware, genuine, and transparent, all characteristics reflected in the four components of authentic leadership. 

Four Components of Authentic Leadership

The four components of authentic leadership are closely interrelated with emotional intelligence. To master the art of authentic leadership, leaders can take proactive steps to unlock their true selves by developing their emotional intelligence competencies, which will enhance their overall authentic leadership style. 

1. Self Awareness

An authentic leader shows self-awareness through reflecting on their own strengths, weaknesses and values. Self-awareness means being aware of their strengths and development opportunities and also being aware of their emotions and triggers. Authentic leaders truly know themselves and are aware of both their gifts and limitations. To develop your self-awareness, try following this 4-step exercise. 

1. Write down the strengths you possess as a leader. 

2. Write down your weaknesses.

3. Write down areas where you feel most confident.

4. Write down areas for improvement. 

After this exercise, reflect on your learning and ask yourself, what surprised me about my answers? By doing this, you will become cognizant of your strengths and weaknesses and identify your improvement areas. When leaders are self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses, this can help them further develop their leadership style and recognize areas they may need assistance in. Share these results with your team and ask for feedback to gauge opinions from your team members. This facilitates an open discussion and actively involves your team members in the process of your leadership development. 

Once leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, this will also build their self-regard. Self-regard is about respecting yourself and is associated with self-confidence. Leaders who acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses will make peace with their flaws and appreciate their unique set of strengths. Developing self-awareness and self-regard will allow leaders to become confident in their abilities and actively work on their areas of improvement. 

2. Relational Transparency

When authentic leaders demonstrate relational transparency, they maintain a good balance of openly sharing their own thoughts and beliefs but do not overly display their emotions to team members. 

Emotional expression is an EQ competency all about expressing one’s feelings constructively, both verbally and non-verbally. An authentic leader needs to tap into their emotional expression to know how much emotion to show. For example, if a leader is worried about not meeting their quarterly sales goals, they need to think about the most effective way to articulate this message without having team members panicking. Instead of saying, “I do not know what to do to reach our quarterly sales goals, I do not think we will meet them,” an authentic leader will reframe their message to illustrate their concern but will simultaneously get their team on board. A statement such as, “With our current performance, I am noticing that we may not be able to meet our sales goals this quarter. Let’s brainstorm some ideas to help us reach our sales goals.” This statement shows transparency as the leader has expressed their concern but also initiates an action plan. Asking to brainstorm ideas is a proactive way to spark innovation within the team and creates a supportive team environment.  

3. Balanced Processing

Balanced processing is soliciting opinions from others as well as welcoming opposing viewpoints. Leaders who demonstrate balanced processing are curious about understanding the “why” behind each idea. By practicing balanced processing, authentic leaders welcome opinions without being quick to judge. 

Balanced processing is associated with self-actualization, the drive to continuously improve. Authentic leaders are strong in self-actualization as they are constantly looking for ways to become the best leader they can be. One of the ways they do this is through soliciting and receiving valuable feedback from their team. Whether constructive or positive, all forms of feedback are welcomed, as authentic leaders see the value of opposing perspectives and want to understand why they feel like they do. For instance, let’s say a leader asks their team to provide feedback on their presentation. The first feedback they receive from a team member is that it went poorly compared to past presentations. An authentic leader will not jump to conclusions that their presentation went poorly overall; instead, they will seek to understand why the team member believed the presentation was poor. Perhaps the team member was not a fan of the content or thought the presentation could be more engaging and interactive. Authentic leaders know that there are reasons behind one’s feedback; by uncovering the motive, they will better understand the feedback they received. 

Furthermore, asking for feedback also connects with the emotional intelligence competency, reality testing. Reality testing equips leaders to remain objective by seeing things as they really are. Having different opinions on a leader’s performance allows the leader to minimize their unconscious biases and assumptions. For example, if a leader believes that they are great at public speaking, asking for feedback challenges this assumption as they seek opinions other than their own.

4. Internalized Moral Perspective

Authentic leaders also display a strong moral code that they demonstrate in their relationships and decision-making. Using an internalized moral perspective enables leaders to lead from their hearts and align with their core values. This ties in with the emotional intelligence competency, independence. Independence is the ability to be self-directed and free from emotional dependency. Combining independence and an internalized moral perspective builds an ethical foundation resistant to external forces. For example, if there is a new, rising trend in the industry, an authentic leader can stand their ground and do what is in the company’s best interest. They will not succumb to the external pressure to follow the trend just because everyone else may be, but will follow the trend if they see a benefit for their organization.  

Independent, authentic leaders allow their core values to guide their everyday actions and behaviour. Picture this – your leader states they value learning and development and wants everyone to participate in self-directed learning and development, just like themselves. However, there never seems to be time for self-directed learning and development for the company as a whole. An authentic leader would be sure to dedicate an allotted time slot for learning and development, such as an hour every Friday afternoon. If there is no time scheduled allotted to learning and development, then their value is simply a wish; it is something that the leader wants to have in the workplace, but it is not something the leader is willing to invest in and make time for.

Become an Authentic Leader

With a high self-awareness, internal drive to continuously improve, ability to openly share their thoughts yet adapt what they say to whom they are speaking with, adapt to any situation, and a strong moral compass, authentic leaders, show up to the workplace with dignity, humility, and integrity. By tuning into their emotional intelligence, they will master the four components of authentic leadership.

Interested in learning about how to become an authentic leader? Call us to book our brand new Authentic Leadership workshop to explore the key concepts, behaviours and ways to incorporate authenticity into your management repertoire.  Alternatively, you can also check out our Values-Based Leadership Workshop to discover your core values and how to apply your values in your work environment.  

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