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Armored with authenticity

Recently Paul Aladenika, a leadership guru, invited me as a guest on his podcast to chat about authentic leadership. While authentic leadership is a topic I regularly address, this podcast reminded me of the crucial basics surrounding this issue.  As a baseline, authenticity is rooted in integrity and is evidenced in consistency. The reality is that authenticity empowers leaders to call others and the entire organization to the next level of extraordinary and magnifies influence. Because the ripple effect is so significant, it’s an issue worth digging into and contemplating. 

A helpful image can be comparing strong leaders who are equipped with authenticity to Roman soldiers. It’s important to remember that Roman soldiers were the best of their time. They were fitted with the best armor, had the best weapons, and were the best trained. In other words, the best of the best in every way. Similarly, leaders who show up authentically are equipped with armor to fight the inevitable battles of leadership. Those who are willing to show up as their true selves can access greater influence with other individuals, teams, and whole organizations.

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Authenticity is rooted in self-awareness. When a leader can clearly define their values, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies, they have a firm understanding of their identity. This serves as a helmet for leaders because a leader is protected from the bullets of self-doubt and insecurities. Next is integrity serving as a breastplate for leaders. Leaders are set free to operate in freedom and fearlessness with the ability to maintain commitment to their true selves. Integrity protects the hearts of leaders from being swayed by challenges, because integrous leaders are committed to acting for the greatest good of others. Authentic leaders are equipped with a shield that protects them from the beast of impostor syndrome and sets them free to show up in confidence. Just like the Roman soldiers were equipped with the offensive weapon of a sword, authentic leaders are empowered to cut through challenges and use it for growth. Whether it’s wisdom gained, experience gained, or simply gaining new systems – each challenge is important as leaders use it to wield their sword for growth. Finally, values serve as the boots that keep authentic leaders grounded. Regardless of shifting circumstances, authentic leaders remain solidly rooted in their core values.

However, it can be downright scary to consider showing up as our true selves. What if we show up authentically and we’re not enough? What if we appear too emotional and lose credibility? There are no guarantees in leadership. Even though it has the potential to stir fear, the rewards are worth it. Healthy leaders who show up with authenticity can establish trust with others because they walk the talk. Leaders who come as they are have special influence because the team can expect leaders to be steady. There is an inevitable impact on culture because when a leader models authenticity, the team is shown that it’s safe to show up as your true self. Ironically, strong leaders are those who can acknowledge their own weaknesses. The Center for Creative Leadership mentions this in their article about authentic leaders. Rather than fearing weak spots being exposed, strong leaders have identified those areas and seek the support to compensate. No one person is meant to have every strength. When we can show how we value one another and invite others to step up, there is a special influence of calling out others’ excellence. The exciting thing is that authentic leaders have earned the voice to challenge others to their next level of extraordinary.

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Operating in authenticity is freeing. Strong leaders are set free to show up as their true selves and to call others to do the same. Authenticity reflects integrity regardless of the circumstances. When we have the courage to show up honestly, we tend to avoid isolation. Putting on the armor of authenticity as a strong leader brings reassurance to the team on various levels and provides a richer sense of fearlessness to fight the battles of leadership with excellence.