“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde
Do we really need reminders of the need to be authentic as leaders?
Apparently we do, based on the 103 million results on a Google search for “authentic leadership.”
There are bestselling books on the subject on Amazon and articles in Forbes and the Harvard Business Review.
Wikipedia provides the following definition:
Authentic leadership is an approach to leadership that emphasizes building the leader’s legitimacy through honest relationships with followers which value their input and are built on an ethical foundation. — Wikipedia
Be honest? Value the input of your team members? Be ethical?
Consider the opposite of authentic. The antonyms include such words as counterfeit, corrupt, untrustworthy, unreliable and fake.
Somewhere, Peter Drucker just turned his head and spit on the ground.
I keep looking around to see if I’m in a lab experiment or if I’m Jim Carrey’s character in The Truman Show.
Harvard University currently offers a two-week online course called Authentic Leader Development. For a mere $10,000. The Authentic Leader class is an introductory class for only $1,450. I guess there are much deeper insights to be gained when you pay ten grand. 🤯
Blog posts on the subject appear at Disney Institute, Hubspot, Michael Hyatt & Co., and the list goes on. And on. And on.
These are thought leaders and some of the best leadership training resources in the world. 🤯🤯
Excuse me, while I pound my head on my ergonomically-correct, stand-up desk.
I guess in a society where influencers can make millions by saying that they like something, use something, or care about something…just long enough to show up in a picture or a TikTok video, this is what we’ve come to.
Made Her Want to Gag
In order to explain why this strikes such a nerve with me, I have to share a family secret. From 1968 to 1973, we lived in Terrace Park, Ohio, one of the coolest small towns in the country. Our house had been built through a hodge-podge of additions over 40+ years. It was painted a drab yellow, with a larger-than-life red rooster hanging (front and center) between our upstairs windows.
My introduction to the local residents was the whispered, “He lives in the rooster house.”
Later in life I’d wear that badge proudly, but I didn’t feel that way at age twelve.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, my mother painted a bright, multi-colored sign that she hung on the front door, on which was inscribed, “Toujours Etre.”
For people who came to the door and didn’t know French, it required an explanation. It was embarrassing.
For the people who came to the door and did know French, they always asked, “Be what? Be happy? And shouldn’t it be Toujours Etre… or Etre Toujours…something?”
That was embarrassing, too.
We had to explain to every person that it was encouragement to be yourself. Be who you are. Be real.
The irony was that my mom dyed her brunette hair blond and wrote poetry in a literary magazine under a pseudonym. But she was absolutely focused on life’s moments and human interactions.
What she wanted (or what she expected) is that when you crossed that threshold, there was no pretense, no phoniness allowed and you experienced life in the moment.
It didn’t just apply to guests. Yes, the residents of the house were expected to heed the sign as well. Oy vey!
Conversation. Singing. Laughter. Whatever you brought to life. And whatever life brought to you.
When visitors would leave and pass her sign on the door on the way out, she’d let me know what she thought.
“They know how to live. That was great!”
Or all too often, she’d roll her eyes and exclaim, “What a phoney!, Made me want to gag.”
I don’t think she was being judgmental, as much as she was trying to mold her son. To experience life. My life. Every day.
Use the Filter of YOU
All leaders are works in progress. Because we’re human. We’re imperfect.
That is both the challenge and the opportunity for us as leaders.
For ten grand, you can get a professor at Harvard to tell you the same thing. 😉
We need examples that we can learn from and advice we can utilize. We apply the examples and the advice to our individual styles, our natural behaviors, and our unique personalities.
To soften the rough edges. To be more effective in how we communicate. How we lead. How we inspire.
So we read blogs like this to get pointers. We read John Maxwell and Ray Dalio. We follow Ryan Holiday. We watch GaryVee.
But you have to put it through the filter of YOU. Some things fit comfortably. Others force you into a contortionist mode, where it just doesn’t fit.
A leader, by definition, requires followers. In order for people to want to follow you, they need to trust you.
You build trust by caring. Listening. Communicating. Providing value.
It isn’t just a matter of a mindset. It is a perspective accompanied by action. It shows up in the decisions you make. It shows up in what you do.
” Authenticity is more than speaking; Authenticity is also about doing. Every decision we make says something about who we are.” — Simon Sinek
You can get people to respond by trying to be someone else. Acting a part. For a while.
Then it’s a race before they run out of interest or you run out of energy. It takes a lot of effort to be somebody else day in and day out. After a while, people recognize it for what it is. And it isn’t attractive.
If you want to be a great leader, by all means, learn from the examples of others. Use what works, discard what doesn’t.
But be yourself. Who you are at your core. The best version of you. The person you aspire to be.
You’ll know when it’s working, when you find your team members imitating you.
As a leader you’re probably not doing a good job unless your employees can do a good impression of you when you’re not around. — Patrick Lencioni
Because you’re consistent.
Because they know you.
Because they trust you.
Because you’re authentic.
You’re a leader.