4 Tips to Increase Your Own Authentic Leadership Behaviors

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Authenticity can get you far these days, both as a person and as a company. People need to feel valued and companies are finally learning that respect and care can do more for employee retention than money, perks or promotions.

When Anne Mulcahy started at Xerox in 1976, she moved up the corporate ladder and was named CEO in 2001. At that time, Xerox was facing bankruptcy after years of mismanagement, debt, and dubious accounting practices. As someone who worked her way up in management, she was well aware of the trust and motivation issues the employees had. She changed the direction of the company by treating the employees as the primary stakeholders rather than the myopic focus on quarterly sales the company had previously focused on. Mulcahy had known many workers for years and valued them as family. She encouraged people to talk to her, to take risks and she put her faith in the employees by being an Authentic Leader. By being a leader of people and not just a numbers driven boss, she still managed to more than double the companies value by the time she stepped down in 2009, handing the company to another lifelong manager who worked her way up, Ursula Burns, who also was not only the first African American woman to lead a Standard and Poor’s company, but also the first woman to succeed another woman in the S&P 100’s history.

The good news is, you don’t have to be Anne Mulcahy to make a difference. You don’t even have to be a CEO or senior executive. Everyone can be a leader in their own right, demonstrating Authentic Leadership behaviors. Along the way, you may help your organization save money, increase talent retention and create a more productive work environment, but most importantly, you will inspire the people around you to be the best version of themselves. It’s like a ripple effect – if you manage to be authentic, you encourage others to bring their true selves to work every day, which increases intrinsic motivation, job satisfaction and employee engagement. Here are some tips to help you be an Authentic Leader:

Know thyself

Self-awareness is an essential quality of Authentic Leadership. In order to behave authentically, you need to know yourself and how your behavior affects other people. In-depth self-awareness goes beyond just being able to list your strengths and weaknesses. It means truly understanding who you are, acknowledging the people and influences that shaped you and continue to shape you, loving your light and embracing your shadows, knowing what triggers you and how both your strengths as well as your derailers impact the people around you. There are many ways to raise your self-awareness and shed light on your blind spots. Here are a few suggestions that you can implement right away:

  • solicit candid feedback from others about their perception of your behavior and style
  • journal regularly and reflect upon your decisions, actions, beliefs and assumptions
  • think about what intrinsically motivates and drives you, what is your ‘Why’

Open up

Authenticity only matters when it’s demonstrated, meaning you have to present your authentic self to others in order to be perceived as authentic. In other words, you have to share information, to be open and honest with others, to express your true thoughts and feelings, instead of acting with an authentic intent but still wearing a professional poker face and holding back. In research this is called “Relational Transparency” and it essentially means building trust through disclosure. Of course, this has to be understood in full respect of confidentiality, and being honest doesn’t equal displaying inappropriate behaviors. Ways to practice Authentic Leadership transparency include:

  • if you cannot tell people something confidential, say so and explain why
  • show vulnerability and humanness, it’s okay to say that you don’t have all the answers
  • apply emotional intelligence when dealing with others, don’t treat them like you would want to be treated but instead treat them like they want to be treated

Expand your view

Sometimes authenticity is mixed up with selfishness, as in “you asked me to be authentic, so this is me, now deal with it”. However, that is a very one-sided worldview and won’t really get you anywhere, no matter how authentic you are. Qualities of Authentic Leaders also include balanced processing of opinions, perspectives and data points. It means not to jump to conclusions or get pulled into knee-jerk reactions to situations without properly examining them. If you realize that you have an emotional reaction to what is going on (and this is where self-awareness comes in handy), give yourself the grace of pause and reflection. Emotions are human but as a leader, know when to balance your heart with your brain:

  • collect and objectively analyze all relevant data before you take a decision
  • process information when you are in a state of mind that allows you to focus and evaluate
  • gather a wide range of viewpoints and solicit input from other people, especially those who won’t be afraid to challenge your position

Be consistent

There are so many regulations in the workplace – organizational procedures, societal pressures, cultural norms – it all plays a role in how we conduct ourselves and how we interact with one another. In addition, people look at their leaders for guidance and as role models. Inspiring leaders don’t have to be perfect, but they need to be human and walk the talk. Authentic Leaders have a strong moral compass and an integrated form of self-regulation that enable them to act in congruence with their internalized values. This in turn results in expressed decision making and behavior that is consistent with these values. People are drawn to and feel inspired by leaders who are true to themselves. This is far more challenging than it sounds, as business reality might clash with your values more often than you would like. Here is how to flex your moral perspective muscle:

  • become aware of this inkling if something is off, trust your gut and instinct, don’t brush it off
  • express discomfort with situations, decisions and requests that don’t sit well with you
  • Define your true north and stay on course, even if that is off the beaten track – others will trust and follow you if they perceive you as an Authentic Leader

If you would like to learn more about Authentic Leadership, download our Teal Paper now: “Authentic Leadership – Why it is crucial to your business success”

Authored by Martina Mangelsdorf, Chief Strategic Dreamer at GAIA Insights, Authentic-Leader-in-Training