Monday, March 2, 2009

Authentic Leadership Begins with Self-Leadership

Effective leaders need to purposefully inspire and energize people to act in a direction towards a goal they have helped them understand is worthy and meaningful.  Effective leadership is not simply about “something leaders do”, I believe it is much more about “honestly expressing who they are when they lead”.

Self - leadership and authenticity are critical ingredients for effective leadership and organizational success. The truth is leadership is personal and how leaders “show-up” and the impact and influence they have on others will ultimately have an impact on their ability to be successful. That’s why “self leadership” and being authentic and true to oneself, is so important. It is about having the courage to not only know who you are but being a leader who isn’t afraid to be who you are. This is what I would refer to as being of “authentic character”, at all times. There is a story I have shared over and over with many leaders to make this point come alive for them. It describes a child’s first day in kindergarten in which the teacher asks him to be sure and asks his parents for a copy of his “birth certificate” and bring it in the next day. Well the word certificate was a difficult word for this one kindergartner to remember let alone say. So when he arrived home that afternoon, he went up to his mother and said, “mom, the teacher asked me to bring in my “excuse for being born” tomorrow”. The point of the story is for each leader to first understand their “excuse” for accepting the opportunity to lead others and then get clear about who they are being as leader for their teams.

Authenticity is another essential ingredient for long-term leadership and organizational effectiveness. Authentic leadership is about showing up and being the person you know in your heart you were meant to be. It’s about being willing to “look in the mirror” and acknowledge and accept who and what you see in the person before you. Authenticity is not about developing the “persona” of a leader it is about letting the person that exist inside of you come through. It’s about aligning one’s behaviors, words, actions and commitments with what they truly believe and stand for. It’s about being true to your values 24 hours a day, everyday. For example, I worked with an officer who truly wore her heart on her sleeve as a leader. She was compassionate, caring and supportive and would go out of her way to enable her team to be successful. It was who she was as a person; it was who she was as a leader. It was apparent to all the she didn’t define leadership by the size of her paycheck but instead by being true to who she was as person, on and off the job.

Self-led Authentic Leaders regularly show up with a definite purpose. They are seen to be on a mission to build teams and communities and to make things happen. They live life and lead “on purpose” and strive to be the true person that they are and are often found to show up in the following ways as a leader:
  • They lead with inner strength and outer courage – they have the ability to go within when times are tough and mustard up the right courage when needed against the crowd when necessary because they know in their heart they should. 
  • They know themselves inside out – what they are on the inside is what they are on the outside; they acknowledge and accept their weaknesses and strengths; they know they can always grow and be more than they are at any point in time so they consistently choose growth and development opportunities. 
  • They dream a new dream, think a new thought – they dare and never fear to dream of new possibilities, to have a vision of that which is not yet perceivable by most and are willing to share it and make it happen; they seek answers from the realm of all potential not just known possibilities. 
  • They walk the talk; they “become it” before they “do it” - their actions speak louder than their words, they are of sound character of which people can see and feel a mile away, they are aligned to their inner values; they create and become the vision now; they know how to change while they skillfully play the now or never game. 
  • They create to thrive; they focus on creating “next services and products” – they understand that nothing that we create lasts for ever and that in order to continue to deliver value they must continue to create new services/products that allow others to thrive; they embrace the fact that everything needed to create the next new wave already exists and they need only to figure out how to sequence the right elements in a new way.
  • They desire to leave a legacy; they seek to serve – they embrace the belief that they where born to contribute and make a difference in the world and work to “leave their mark” as a leader, they believe that their life as leader must have a lasting purpose and live on in the hearts of others is to live on forever, giving and serving.
  • They speak the truth; they are honest and authentic – they align their words, actions and behaviors with who they really are on the inside; what you see is what you get; they are clear, honest and authentic in their communications and dealings with others; they don’t control others, instead, they engage and relate to others.
  • They lead from the heart and with sincere appreciation – leadership is about people, without people to follow there is no one to lead, they genuinely care about other people and see themselves as a source of energy for their organizations; they respect the leader in everyone and they are always grateful for the opportunity they have been given and for those they have the honor to serve.
As a leader, it is not only okay to be true to who you are but I believe it is required in order to be an effective leader. Too often I have seen leaders who choose to leave who they really are as a person, as an individual at the door in an effort to try and fit in and live up to the expectations someone else has of them as a leader. I remember one conversation I had with a leader who was struggling with some feedback they had gotten that said they should try to smile less and act more like the other leaders in the group. Their concern was the request to change who and how they showed up as a leader was asking them to change who they were as a person, the essence of their being. Too often I have run into this situation over and over again, in which leaders are asked to show up in an unauthentic way in order for another leader to accept them into their own circle of leadership. What a missed opportunity and the perfect time to declare through the act of self-leadership that who you are as a person is who you are and will be as leader, everyday.


Michael Hopkin said...

Angela, your post struck a nice chord with me. Authenticity is indeed an important aspect of leadership. We need to be ourselves.

In the process of being themselves, true leaders become better daily. They do not try to be someone they are not, but instead work to improve who they are and what they represent.

I blog at Lead on Purpose ( about the importance of taking steps -- with specific intention -- to lead others, regardless of your title or position. Your eight characteristics of people who lead "on purpose" are absolutely spot-on; you could easily write separate posts (or ebooks) about each.

I am happy to have made the connection with you and your blog, and look forward to sharing ideas and collaborating in the future.

Thank you,

Angela Chammas said...

Michael, thank you so much for your comments and for your kind and positive words. It's great to connect with another person who has a passion for leadership. I will definitely check out your blog as well. I truly look forward to reading more of your thoughts and ideas on leadership.

Thanks also for your suggestion that I expand on the eight characteristics of people who lead on purpose and possibly write ebooks on the subject. I will definitely put that on my list of potential projects to do.

Thanks again for your comments. I look forward to sharing more thoughts and ideas with you in the future.