Leadership Authenticity… What it really means

Are we being a reflection of our inner self or are we a reflection of the people around us?

There is a lot of talk now about leaders needing to be authentic. What does that really mean?

I have heard people misconstrue the meaning. They take the word authentic, to mean, I can just be myself. Just being ourselves is not that simple.

There can be a difference between being truly authentic and just being ourselves. The question here is, what is driving ‘being ourselves’? Are we being a reflection of our inner self or are we a reflection of the people around us?

Authenticity is a continuous connectivity between the head, the heart, and the soul. Understanding, and then living that, makes one truly authentic. If we continually see ourselves through the eyes of others, then that will change the equation. Seeing oneself through other people’s eyes means we become a person who is not staying true to themselves, but a person trying to stay true to other people’s expectations. How often do we see executives continually rating themselves against others for the wrong reasons? Playing office politics, winning at the expense of others, and the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, we can be influenced by others. Having mentors and role models are healthy learning opportunities. But that’s just it; it is for our personal development, not for us to be a replica of someone else. Competition is healthy also, but not at the expense of others. A behaviour which can also lead to misalignment of strategic objectives.

So being an authentic leader is something that comes from within us.

When our heart, soul and inner selves are connected, we will have good thoughts. Over the years coaching numerous executives, I have never met anyone, that once they are connected to their inner self, and recognised their deep feelings about themselves, that they want to treat people badly. When thoughts to compete, seek revenge, we are better than him/her etc., come, then they are in their head space, and are not connected with their inner feelings.

An exercise I have done many times as a coach is to help people get in touch with their inner self. It’s amazing how much people get out of that exercise. It quite often liberates them. They like the energy that it provides, and they work hard to be more in this mode of behaviour. That is taking regular time out to meditate and reflect. So, with continual encouragement and self-discipline they start to change. It may be a long journey for some but at least they have started.

I will admit, some bounce back to their old behaviour of headspace living and stay there for a variety of reasons. Luckily, they are the minority I have worked with.

A very important outcome of being our true self, is that we are more conscious of our impact on others. It’s not, “I need to be myself so I can say what I want.” Yes, we need to say what needs to be said, but in a more diplomatic way. It just takes a little patience and discipline; something we have more of when that desire comes from within.

Keeping in touch with our own feelings enables us to better understand other people’s feelings. That’s what tends to motivate us to be conscious of others. A heightener for our emotional intelligence.

The last point regarding authenticity I want to make, is about ego. To me, we have two aspects of ego. Our inner and outer ego.

Our outer ego is fuelled by our thoughts, not our feelings. It gets back to what I mentioned before: the desire to compete and feel superior to others. That’s headspace thinking only. We may think we are feeling it, but no, we are thinking it. The feeling we are getting is only a reflection of our thoughts, such as: “Yes I am better than they are. Yes aren’t I good!”

In their mind, an Olympic athlete does not compete against others. They compete against themselves and strive for their personal best. Yes, physically they compete with others, but mentally they do not. It’s that inner strength that gives them the drive to compete day after day.

The same is true for authentic leaders. To be authentic we need to have that inner strength not to bow to other people’s opinions as to how we should be leading. Yes, we need to be open minded to other ideas but not a direct reflection of them.

Our inner ego comes from being confident, feeling that we are okay and that we can stand tall in any crowd. But that should come from our inner self, not from an outer expression where we feel the need to tell everyone. Our inner self does not compete with others; it competes only with ourselves. That is the foundation of being authentic.

So how do we work on your authenticity?

You need to have a desire which comes from within, not a desire driven by the outside environment. That is, “authentic leadership is what I am reading about so I must become one.” The problem here is, that as soon as you meet a roadblock, you will move to another leadership fad because it may be easier to do.

Our desire needs to come from within. We can realise this through meditation or mindfulness. The key here is to just take the time out to reflect on how we want to behave and are behaving as a person. Not how we think we should behave, but how we really feel. When we compete with ourselves we win; only when you compete with others do we lose.

Taking that regular time out is fuelled by the desire from within. If it’s difficult to find the time, then question where our desire is coming from. Our inner being or our outer thoughts. Get that right and we can be truly authentic

So, to summarise, true authenticity is about feeling it, not thinking it.

This article has been written by Ross Swan. He is a leadership coach dedicated to helping leaders become more authentic in the way they lead. Ross is an Associate with Arka Leadership.

To develop authentic leaders in the world, who live life successfully and joyfully.

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