Authenticity: The Most Important Attribute

If you take anything away from this site on becoming a leader, it should be this: To be a leader, you must be yourself. To help you know yourself better, please consider taking the free Core Values Index (CVI) assessment by clicking here.

This may sound a bit odd, but often when people first step into a leadership role, they are often a bit intimidated, uncertain and even frightened. This is to be expected - it is a new experience and one that comes with both risk and responsibility.

Unfortunately, when we are nervous and worried about failure, we often put on a "mask" and start to behave in a way that we "think we should" or in a way that we "think leaders should" behave. This is disastrous! No one wants to work for someone who is acting, posing or pretending. They want to follow a real human being.

In this sense, it is absolutely imperative that you have the confidence to be you. You will be imperfect, you will make mistakes, but you will not have committed a fatal leadership sin - that of pretending to be someone you are not. Just be yourself!

Once you have internalized this need - and it is not easy - then some of the other areas can be explored regarding how to develop, grow and use your influence. Communication for example is a key skill to have as a leader. However, without authenticity as a foundation, any credibility you have built up will always be at risk of falling apart. You must be yourself.


The Currency of Credibility

Leadership is an act of influence and the currency of influence is credibility. It is helpful for you to think about this as an imaginary bank account where your objective is to maintain a healthy balance of credibility. Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, uses this concept in a lot of his work.

Throughout your leadership career and indeed your life, you will find opportunities to enhance your credibility account and unfortunately, times when you must spend from that account, i.e. when you make a mistake. It isn’t always easy to determine exactly how much you have in the account at any one time but you will definitely have a sense of when you are making a deposit and growing your credibility or spending it, i.e. making a withdrawal!

The more credibility you have in your account the more errors you can make or failures you can experience without being written off, i.e. people will “cut you some slack”. This error tolerance also allows you to take more frequent and larger risks, thus potentially accomplishing a lot more in your role, your career and your life.

Quite simply, the more credibility you have, the bigger risks you can take and the more successful you will become. Growing your credibility early in your career is thus very important.


Leadership Direction

Another of the key things people look for in those they are willing to follow is a sense of direction. Often this can be referred to as a "vision" although it seems this term is grossly over used these days.

A sense of direction is very important to people and yet at the same time, it need not be complicated. Often the most effective "leadership vision" consists of three elements. The first of these is fundamental purpose. In other words, why does your team exist?

The second thing that people tend to rally around is some sort of inspiring "objective" or clear mission.  To be inspiring, a mission should have a measurable outcome and timeframe.

And the third thing to create is a "team culture" which can also be defined as a set of "core values" or "team norms". In essence these set the implied rules for how the team functions together.

The benefit of structuring a "direction" in this manner is that it appeals to those people who are inspired by purpose as well as those that are goal oriented (mission). By providing people with a set of rules or guidelines to which they have all contributed and agreed to (culture), the leader (you) do not need to spend much of your credibility to keep things moving along. In essence, you just need to regularly come back to three questions, namely:

  • Is this aligned with our purpose?
  • Will this contribute to accomplishing the mission?
  • Are we acting in accordance with our agreed culture?

Of course, you will also need the courage to ask these questions even when the energy is high and the differences of opinion are huge. This is a simple undertaking but not necessarily an easy one!



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