Being an authentic leader is a cornerstone of building a spiritually intelligent workplace. To be authentic is to be real, to be genuine. If we consider that the opposite of authentic is phony or fake, then most people would vote for authenticity. It's like a counterfeit coin, which doesn't buy us anything once it is discovered, whereas an authentic coin is highly valuable. Personal authenticity breeds trust, commitment and loyalty in a work group. Teams that practice authenticity are stronger, more productive and experience less interpersonal friction than those that are - well, inauthentic.
Teams that empower each person to lead in their own way tend to be authentic. I am a firm believer that any person, not just the designated manager, can lead from where they sit in the organizational chart. I've seen teams accomplish great things as they rally around a peer who leads and has great influence because of their personal authenticity.
So, what characterizes authentic leaders? They have the following seven qualities:
1. Awareness and development of personal strengths: The authentic leader has a high degree of self-awareness and understands her strengths. She has developed her innate talents into strengths by practicing them and building a body of knowledge in that area. She may have discovered her strengths through honest self-assessment or been aided by participating in a course of study such as Brio Leadership's In-Powering People and Teams training. She knows that she is brilliant when she works in her strengths, and is dull and unhappy when she is not.
2. Awareness and acknowledgment of personal weaknesses: Along with understanding strengths comes self-awareness of one's weaknesses. The authentic leader recognizes his weaknesses, as indicated by those tasks that he neither enjoys nor excels at. For example, some people may not perform well when asked to do detailed, repetitive work such as bookkeeping. The authentic leader acknowledges his weaknesses and finds ways to mitigate them, often by delegating those tasks to others.
3. Values-based decision-making: The leader knows her own values and makes decisions based upon them. The leader's values allow her to make forward-thinking decisions that keep the team or organization true to its mission. An authentic leader will also make sure that her values are aligned with those of the organization she works for.
4. Integrity: Integrity is doing what you say you will do, being trustworthy and keeping confidences. You can count on authentic leaders to be good for their word. Integrity is the foundation for building high-performance teams. Teams that work in a trustworthy environment will product much better results than those that are characterized by suspicion and a lack of trust.
5. Empathy and respect for others: Authenticity means not only being true to yourself, but respecting others and being empathetic to their individual circumstances. An authentic person knows that all team members are not alike, and that our differences, when respected and acknowledged, can make the team stronger. Authenticity is the ability to listen empathetically and with an open heart to the stories, backgrounds and needs of others.
6. Courage: This is the ability to stand up for what you think is right, to make unpopular decisions, and to speak up respectfully when you disagree with what others are saying, even if it is your manager. I once had a manager who complained that all her direct reports "only blow me sunshine," meaning that they told her only the good news. She was requesting more courage on the part of her direct reports.
7. Emotional management: Lest we think that being authentic means to inappropriately express all emotions as they are felt, we must address the need for emotional management. The authentic leader will not hide his true feelings, but will have enough self-control to respond rather than react to emotional triggers. He will know better than to lash out at others when angry, but will be able to express anger in a way that is productive, and with timing that will ensure maximum impact. A leader that expresses anger often and inappropriately will only be feared, not respected - and we know for a fact that human beings do not produce their best work when fearful. The leader who acknowledges his feelings in a way that respects the other person will engender loyalty in his team.
So, are you an authentic leader? To find out, ask yourself if you display these seven characteristics. If you fail in one or more of these qualities, think of how you might develop it in yourself. Your team and your organization will profit from your efforts to become more authentic.
Kristin Robertson is President and Head Coach of Brio Leadership, a coaching, consulting and training firm that helps organizations thrive through values-based leadership. She believes that incorporating spiritual intelligence in the workplace is a way to positively transform lives and create highly productive work environments.
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