The art of being yourself: The role of authenticity in leadership

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14 July 2022
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

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When people look to their leaders, they’re weighing up the many different elements of their skills, style and personality to understand them and start anticipating what they’ll want. Different people have different expectations and methods of interacting, which makes the best leaders those who are genuine and authentic, so the people around them can get a clear read of their style.

Leaders walk a tightrope. On one side, they’re the figureheads that people look to for guidance, vision and support. On the other side, no matter their title or position, they’re only human and have all the limitations that comes with that.

Ultimately, leaders can (and should) only be themselves. They can certainly work on improving their skills and style to become the best possible version of who they are, but they can’t be anyone else. Once a leader comes to accept that, they’ll be much more confident and effective.

 

What kind of leader are you?

Every single leader is the product of a personalised blend of their knowledge and experiences, as well as their environment, personality, behaviours and what they’re asking of their people. Identifying and perfecting your own leadership style takes time. This can be daunting or frustrating for anyone with dreams to start as the best and then get better.

At Speak First, we’ve used the work of Carl Jung, a highly influential psychologist, to create a short and simple self-evaluation, which categorises behavioural styles into four distinct categories. You can take our Animal Quiz to see whether your leadership style is more like the analytically minded Owl, the confident and independent Lion, the empathetic Horse or the enthusiastic and fast-paced Monkey.

In reality, we all have a mixture of each of these characteristics, and which one stands out can depend on our mood and the situation, though one or two may tend to be more dominant than the others. You can read this article to learn more about your results, and how to use your own styles to get the best out of yourself and others.

 

Be happy being yourself

This personalised mix of behaviours means you can’t just try to develop an exact copy of someone else’s leadership style. Whether it’s someone you’ve worked with before, or a famous leader you idolise, they aren’t you and you aren’t them.

Think about it like an actor in a movie. As Oscar-worthy as a performer may prove themselves to be, every good actor knows there are roles that suit their abilities and style, and roles which they simply won’t do justice to. Maybe they don’t have the life experience to draw on for a particular storyline, or they recognise that it calls for someone better at comedy, drama or action scenes. They know what to do (and not to) to make the best of their own abilities.

Finding and developing your leadership styles is similar. Just because you liked what someone else did, doesn’t mean you can step into their shoes and do it exactly the same way. However, learning from others is always a good idea.

There’s a lot of value in being inspired and modelling excellence you’ve seen other leaders do. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, when there’s plenty of great leaders out there to learn from. For example, you may want to adopt elements of their communication methods or decision-making approach. Just be mindful to tailor it to match your personality, instead of trying to force yourself to act entirely like them. Being authentic doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others, as long as you adapt it to work the right way for you.

 

Show you’re trustworthy

One of the most important elements of leadership is being trustworthy. You’ll often need to make difficult decisions and ask a lot from your teams. In order for everyone to be most effective in these moments, the people around you need to know they can trust you.

When you’re not being yourself, and trying too hard to be someone you’re not, it’s obvious to those around you. They may not know what’s wrong, but they’ll sense that something is. This can immediately weaken their trust in you. Even leaders who are particularly authoritarian and a disciplinarian, won’t get as much out of their teams as someone ‘softer’ who’s trusted and respected. People want to know they can rely on you.

They also gain confidence from knowing that they understand you and your wants. If your opinion changes with the wind, they won’t trust you when you tell them what you want, because your desires can change again. With authenticity comes consistency, and with consistency people can start having confidence and trust in your leadership.

 

Put your heart into it

Trying to be someone you’re not only means you spend more time second guessing yourself and less time taking the actions you actually want to. To be a truly effective leader, you need to be comfortable in your own skin. This can only really happen when you’re being your true, authentic self – whoever that is.

And this extends far beyond your style of leadership. It means being open with people around you about who you are, the things you like and things you’re passionate about. Whether it’s your favourite sports team, your hobbies or simply opening up a little bit about your family, it makes you a more rounded person. They get to know more about you and you get to know more about them.

There’s no benefit for leaders to act aloof, this only keeps people at arm’s length. You can be much more motivational and inspirational when you’ve built genuine connections with the people around you. Once you know and understand each other better, it’s easier to ask things of them and they’ll know you and your expectations.

 

Genuine self-awareness

As well as being honest with those around you, authenticity also means being honest with yourself. There’s a small value in ‘faking it until you make it’ when it comes to feeling positive while developing your skills and confidence, but this doesn’t mean you should lie to yourself (or anyone else!). ‘Faking it’ has to go hand in hand with self-awareness. You’re recognising certain limitations of your abilities and boosting yourself up when you’re feeling nervous.

As a leader, you need to fully and honestly understand your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you’re a brilliant organiser and one of the best people in your company at project management and logistics, but you’re not the best public speaker. Or, perhaps you’re fantastic at motivating and inspiring a team, but you know you need someone to double check your figures when it comes to accounts and spreadsheets.

None of this is a bad thing, but it’s also not an invitation to stand back and use inexperience or lack of confidence as excuses not to do the things you need to do. In some areas, simply being aware of your limitations is enough to make sure you don’t over promise and under deliver.

There are many more active steps you can take. If there are parts of the role you struggle with because you don’t have the experience or knowledge, set these areas aside for personal development – perhaps looking into training or coaching. Sometimes all it takes is to challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone to start building up your confidence.

 

Being a people leader means being someone they can look to for guidance and vision. Being authentic, and leading in a way that’s true to yourself, gives those around you the confidence to anticipate your needs and understand your expectations. It also goes a long way to building your own confidence and letting you find your own, unique style.

 

To discover and learn more about core leadership skills, take a look at our Learning Solutions.