Authentic leadership may seem like a no-brainer. But is it this simple?
We probably think:
“Of course we want to BE THIS; we want to FOLLOW THIS; we want NOTHING BUT THIS in leadership.
But have you ever wondered what gets in the way of truly authentic leadership?
Do we wake up one morning and say, “I want to be a fraud?”
Heavens no. It’s much trickier than that.
Leadership Looking Glass
The Key is Self-Reflection
If I look deeply into my own life, one of the ways I sacrificed authenticity in the past was in service of a personal dream I had for my career. In my case, it was the dream to be an astronaut.
That goal was so important to me, I would present myself in any way I thought would get me closer to it. I lied about my health on my NASA astronaut application. I didn’t mention the allergy to cats.
How authentic is that? But peel down another layer and why was I doing this?
Because I was afraid the truth would not be good enough. I was not good enough. And so I was covering myself in a protective layer of fake.
On Authenticity and Ego
I am not alone. Indeed, anytime I sniff out inauthentic behavior (…and don’t we smell it instantly…) I now see the ego behind it – pushing its agenda, covering its fears, trying to be something it’s not.
Anytime we try to be something – we’re not.
It’s only when we get out of our own way that a natural, authentic quality can emerge – what I’ve come to call the Zen leader. Why Zen? Because Zen is a way to see around the edges of ego – even cut the root of ego – whereas most leadership development and endeavors only make the ego larger and more firmly in charge.
Only as we relinquish what’s small about our self (i.e., our ego and its fears) does the whole, authentic self emerge.
Practical Steps to Authenticity
One practical way we might see this is what Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership, where one is ambitious, not for oneself, but for the bigger picture, the whole institution.
Getting out of our own way, we are free to serve the whole picture.
One practical way we might approach this big authenticity is by noticing when we get small and self-serving and pausing to ask, “What am I afraid of?”
Fears do their dirtiest work underground and from a distance.
The awareness that sees our fears is not itself afraid, so as soon as we see our fear, it doesn’t get all of us. And just maybe we can penetrate it, and let it go.
The moment we let go of something that had been making us small – poof – we get larger, like releasing a genie from a bottle.
As we get larger, our net of leadership concerns naturally gets larger.
What have you sensed about inauthentic vs. authentic leaders? When have you caught yourself getting in your own way, and do you see the same pattern I talk about here? What has helped you get out of your own way and be truly authentic?
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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders™
Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, The Zen Leader, is President of Focus Leadership
She helps leaders transform with programs, coaching, FEBI assessment, keynotes
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | skype: ginnywhitelaw | +1 410 923 0285
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