Have you ever found yourself in this situation? You’ve signed up for something and then it turned out to be different than you imagined? Have you ever looked around at everything happening, everything expected of you, and said, “This isn’t me. I’m outta here!”? Life and work can become unbearable if we can’t be authentic.
That happened to me on one of my very first jobs (and several times since!) I was 16, needed money badly, and took a job with a cleaning company. We cleaned a couple of restaurants in the evenings after they closed, and during my short tenure, we were doing a deep clean of a Catholic church — including dusting the wooden planking on the ceiling! After a few nights of cleaning grease traps, climbing scaffolding, and getting home at 2 am, I said exactly that: “This isn’t me!” I then got a job in retail — which gave me the opportunity to interact with and help people…much more aligned with who I am. I was happier and according to the series of raises I received, I did a better job for my employer.
We Lead Best When We Show Up
What’s happening when we get that “this isn’t me” feeling is that we’ve allowed ourselves to get entangled in a task, a mission, a company, or a cause that isn’t congruent with our personality, passions or values. When we’re living that way, we know — and really, everyone knows — it’s not the “real me” that’s showing up for work.
This kind of “showing up” isn’t limited to what Woody Allen meant when he famously said “80% of success is showing up.” He was referring to starting and getting to work. Authentic leadership requires a different kind of showing up: being present (self-awareness).
We Trip Over Cluelessness
When was the last time you channeled your self-awareness into tangible action? When you become cognizant of where you stand in the eyes of your employees, you unlock a whole new world of potential opportunity to develop the leadership skills of those around you.
That’s because authentic leaders use awareness of their own strengths, weaknesses and emotional tendencies to identify the same characteristics in others. This allows you to mentor employees on what they need to improve in order to reach their full potential. Not the potential that you think they have, but the potential they believe in.
We Trip Over Position
John C. Maxwell’s best-selling book, The Five Levels of Leadership, serves as the foundation from which we build and deliver our custom leadership development solutions. In Level 2, you make the jump from Position to Permission, your first real step into the realm of leadership.
When a leader learns to function on the Permission level, people actually start to follow them. Not because they have the title of manager or executive, but because the leader begins to influence people by building relationships with them.
Doing so develops a foundation for effective leadership and de-silos an organization’s infrastructure. Relationships deepen and people feel valued. These are hallmark achievements of a leader dedicated to reaching ‘Permission’ status.
We Trip Over Ownership
As an executive leader, there are projects and plans that you must control. There are others that call for close collaboration with your team. Use these moments to show that you are open to their suggestions. Find common ground on important initiatives, even if it means transferring some of your ownership into the hands of your people.
A truly authentic leader trusts his or her followers to perform, and gives them the leeway to make mistakes. Without this flexibility and open-mindedness, employee retention issues find their way into the conversation. People want to work for those they trust – and those who show trust in them.
More than a strategic keyword that you weave into your resume, ‘authenticity’ should live at the intersection of corporate leadership development and business outcomes. Executives and employees alike must be allowed – and encouraged – to work how they are wired. Your organization will reap the benefits.