How You Can Be More Authentic

Last week, I posited that you and I have the ability and choice to be more or less authentic.  Occasionally, we consciously decide how much or how little of our “real” selves we will show.  But in nearly every relationship and even every encounter, we unconsciously decide how true we will be to our core self, how much of ourselves we will show.  And last week (and posted below*) I shared with you the data about just how powerful being authentic is.

So, this week I share with you a ruler against which you can measure the authenticity of your behavior.  The ruler was created through a survey, responded to by about 300 people who were asked, “Who is or was the most authentic leader you have personally known?”  And respondents were then asked, “What is/was it about their leadership that makes you say they were the most authentic leader you have known?”  So, rather than multiple choice, we allowed them (in some cases you*) to tell us who that leader was and what they did.  We then analyzed those open responses to see what were the major characteristics or behavior identified.

Here is what people reported that caused them to say someone is “the most authentic leader they have personally known:”

  • 77%  Honesty; Integrity ; Genuine; Respectful; Clear Personal Values
  • 55%  Good listener; Friendly; Humble; Open
  • 41%  Inspiring ; Got people motivated; Charisma; Visionary; Passionate
  • 33%  Lead by example

[They add up to more than 100% because people could name more than one attribute in their answer.]

The first, third and fourth you will find in nearly every description or model of leadership.  What seems to stand out here, about authenticity, is the second, “good listener; friendly; humble; open.” 

Let’s finish where we started:  Every single day we make hundreds of conscious and unconscious choices and micro-choices as we lead. When we have authority — as boss, parent, cop, principal, etc. — it’s so easy NOT to do these four things that authentic leaders do. Because of the pressure, timelines, and need for order, we are easily led to a top-down, I-know-better, do-as-I-say set of practices.  And that is how many of our forebears led: with a need-to-know, “because I said so,” and frankly fearful way of treating their subordinates (the very tone of that word, “subordinates” smacks of our wrong-headed thinking).

The leaders, whom my survey respondents truly exalted for their “authenticity,” appear to have developed the discipline to repeatedly let go of their power, haste, and demanding-ness to meet people humbly, as equals, as adults, as deserving of respect.  it’s worth practicing as you,

Lead with your best self.

If you missed last week’s RFL, or for a reminder, here are the four most often named outcomes that they saw resulted from their model’s “authentic leadership”:

  • 66% of survey respondents said the impact they saw from the most authentic leader they worked with was an increase in trust, respect, loyalty;
  • 55% used words that said their authentic leader was inspiring, motivating and that they evoked passion and hard work from those who followed them;
  • 44% of the comments spoke to how the authentic leaders generated a positive environment for work and one that was inclusive,
  • 39% said the authentic leader generated team unity and fostered collaboration

* The survey was published through this email list, through a class of 15 public administration graduate students, and through a Facebook post.  The link was shareable.

  • Fully agree with the second set of characteristics that seems to stand out. It is all about enjoying the ride while leading, not only when and where it pleases such as with our families and friends, but since the work week. Sadly but realistic, many of us spend more week time with, and have been engaged longer with, our work teams than with our families. So, there is no room for not being relaxed also at work, for it becomes very difficult to be open, to be friendly, to apply some moderate dosis of humor on our daily interactions, which also sets the stage for being humble, and authentic.

  • And now, any of us can choose a quality on these lists and commit to improving it. Pick one to focus on for the month of March. Add another in April.
    I’m going to start with respect. I think I’m pretty respectful but the survey inspires me to recommit and improve.

  • The challenge to me with this series on authenticity is that it is the leaders who are the opposite of authentic that stay in my memory the most vividly.

  • Mark John Hunter, Yes, there’s something about the unpleasant situations that sticks with us – which makes it all the more essential for leaders to put effort into these traits. When you focus on Dan’s topic, are there any leaders who come to mind?

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