What is Authentic Leadership?

“Authentic Leadership” is a phrase that I've seen popping up in a lot of different places lately — so much so that it's turning into a bit of a buzzword. But it's also an important concept that lies at the heart of my business.

The phrase can mean a lot of different things to different people — to some it means cultivating a deep sense of self-awareness, to others it's bringing your whole self to work, or it can also be about developing honest and transparent relationships with colleagues and direct reports. 

While those are all good things, authentic leadership means something a little different to me: 

Authentic leadership is leadership that is aligned with who you are and who you want to become.

The key word there is "aligned." Alignment is all about knowing what you stand for, what you bring to the table, and your vision for who you want to be as a leader — and walking a path that is true to that. In that way, authentic leadership and strategic leadership carry the same meaning to me; they're all about making choices and taking action that is in alignment with who you are.

When someone first becomes a leader and doesn't yet have the experience or skills to be the great leader they want to be, they might impersonate what they think a leader should be.

I don't know about you, but when I was first promoted, I started wearing a lot of blazers to work, (because something about blazers said "leadership" to me), and I thought looking the part would make me feel like I was really playing the part. I also copied the management styles of my previous supervisors, mostly unsuccessfully. It was an important time to try on new things and see what fit, but it was like wearing an ill-fitting coat. It just didn't feel right. It was a time when I felt pretty lost — like I was shooting from the hip, making things up as I went along, trying desperately to prove myself, and learning everything through trial and error. I definitely didn't feel like I was developing a sense of confidence in myself. 

I took the time to take a step back and define my personal mission, my values, my leadership style, and my vision for who I wanted to be as a leader. I got clear on those elements that form the framework of my leadership, and that self-knowledge was the key to developing confidence, groundedness, and a sense of myself as an authentic leader. The most surprising part was that this was all already inside of me — it wasn't something I found or copied from an outside source.

I made my own coat, tailored perfectly to me. I started walking a path that was true to that, making strategic decisions about what actions would bring me closer to my vision, and, more importantly, what was diffusing my efforts or taking me away from where I wanted to be.  

If you want to develop your authentic leadership, take some times to sit down and write out: who you are, what you stand for, what you bring to the table, and who you want to be as a leader. You can download a free workbook for that here. 

This is what I work on with 1:1 Leadership Coaching clients. By articulating the framework of their leadership, clients gain clarity on how they can show up to work in a way that is true to who they are; they see how they're already embodying their leadership, how it's not out of reach; and they  understand how to challenge themselves to become more and more themselves, and more and more effective as authentic leaders. 

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