There's no recipe for a successful leader.
As an executive coach, I’ve witnessed many leaders tie themselves in all sorts of knots trying to work out what the ideal leadership style is to emulate. And in doing so, many lose themselves trying to become something that they are not.
If you ‘Google’ the word leadership, you'll get an eye-watering 796,000,000 results. No wonder we get confused! It's arguably the most researched topic in business and there's been debate as to what gifted leadership entails, for as long as the concept has been around.
However, the latest research and thinking is telling us that rather than there being ‘one right way’ to lead, great leadership comes in many guises - there are skilled leaders who are introverted, extroverted, charismatic, quiet and unassuming, and everything in between.
This is where authentic leadership steps in – a leadership approach that emphasises building honest relationships with followers, promoting truthful self-concepts and openness.
Author and management expert, Bill George, in his 2003 book, Authentic Leadership, describes authentic leadership as a leadership style that is consistent with a leader’s personality and core values, which is honest, ethical and practical.
If there's a bit of advice I can give you (and I do this hesitantly - see here for more on the perils of giving advice) it's: don't try and be something you are not. Rather, understand yourself better - then work on being the best version of that self.
Here are 6 tips on how to become a better, more authentic leader:
1. Know your strengths.
This starts with honestly assessing your abilities and then getting comfortable enough to capitalise on them. Get clear on your strengths and find ways to integrate those strengths into what you do every day in your leadership. Having trouble? Think of qualities others say you excel in. Go to performance reviews, the feedback you’ve received, 360-degree feedback. When you lead from your strengths, you’re engaged and energised. You’re self-assured.
2. Know your weaknesses.
And then work on them. It’s better to choose one or two aspects of your leadership you want to improve on at a time. And make sure you work on deficits in the soft skills – communication, listening, empathy, emotional control – which ironically, are often the hardest yet most impactful to master.
3. Develop your emotional intelligence.
4. Be more of who you are.
If you find yourself being one person at home and another at work, that's an indication there’s some work to be done. You can do this through appropriate self-disclosure, getting clear on your values and what drives you, and having the courage to let your personality shine through. Be real and share your feelings. Lead with your heart as well as your head. You might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s better (and less draining) than the alternative. Also, people can see through it when you are not - and that damages trust.
5. Be willing to admit your mistakes.
Say sorry when it’s warranted. Admit your failures and learn from them. A leader who never apologises is not a good one.
Thankfully, long gone are the days when we considered there to be one way to lead. Indeed, when we consider the volatile, complex, ambiguous and uncertain world in which we manage, you’re far better to tune into who you are – and by doing so, you allow those you lead to do the same.