Authentic Leadership…

Lessons in Being More Than True to Yourself

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I have boxes of old journals.  I love pulling them out to read and reread.  I journal quite a bit about the work environment and how we add value to others lives by the things we do and say. 

Like so many of you, Chadwick Bozeman’s death hit me hard.  My son and daughter both texted me about their pain at this loss.  Chadwick Bozeman bought about a sense of authenticity to the black experience. 

“Purpose is the essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.” – Chadwick Bozeman

My son said it best last night, “Mom, he just taught us to be true to ourselves.”

As I read through my journals, I thought about the many roles Chadwick Bozeman had played in his career.  He made a point of playing characters that showcased the best of us. He played characters that kept his life and legacy true to who he was as a black man. 

As I read through one of my journals, I came across a time in my career more than twenty-five years ago when I was the only black woman on my executive leadership level in my County career.  The person I reported to clearly did not like the fact that I was a black woman, and that I would not acquiesce to her.  She systemically stripped me of every responsibility I held in my role. 

My staff were horrified, and would make comments to me, out of concern. They wanted to know how I could take it without saying anything or getting mad.  I would often explain to them that my time would come, and that she did not have the power to change me from being true to myself.  I led authentically, and I understood that she did not control my purpose along my journey.    

The day I left that job, for a more influential post, which continued to open doors for me, I wrote in my journal… “Always be authentic and true to yourself.  You will make a difference.”

I have thought about authentic leadership a great deal since then. The term is tossed around quite often these days.  We see the term used more today than ever, as we are back to exploring what real and authentic work environments should be.

Let’s face it, today’s employees can spot the bull very quickly, and truth be told they have so many choices of where they can work, that they rarely have to put up with a boss or leader they can’t get along with.  In many work environments, fear and distrust of leadership is the number one reason for low retention and high turnover. 

Authenticity has been explored throughout history, from great African and Greek philosophers, to today’s leadership and management gurus.

But what if you have recently been promoted to a leadership position, or you are leading a team for the first time?  What you typically hear from other leaders is that to be a good leader you must be authentic. 

As you try to determine what that means, you hear advice like, “be directive”, “the buck stops with you”, “be inspirational, be transparent, be confident,” and on and on. 

Confused?  You bet.  The minute you become authentic or “true to you”, most of your staff will not like you.  Let’s face it, the people we are at work are not the people we are at home, or in any of our social environments.

Why?  Because they are different environments that require different behaviors, different rules and have different expectations. 

Did you know that research has shown that authentic leadership serves as the single highest predictor of an employer and employee’s relationship, which leads to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and increased employee retention.

But how do you become an authentic leader in the workplace? 

First, authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine.  And remember age, gender, nor race has anything to do with being an authentic leader.  Authentic leaders are self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions.   

They really are the people who are the same in both public and private life (ask my kiddos); and they do not hide their mistakes or weaknesses.  They have made many, but they realize that it is their mistakes that have made them better.  These are leaders who realize that work is a part of the life journey, not just the journey.  They realize that they are still learning right along with those they are leading.

Authentic leaders are also visionaries who focus on the long-term. These are the leaders who realize that to nurture employees and an organization, requires hard work and patience, but that this approach will pay off in the end with a team of people who trust one another and who recognize that they have built something great over the long-term.

And finally, authentic leaders lead with their heart.  Yes, these are the brightest and smartest of the bunch, but they know that leadership is always more than just about the numbers. They connect with their employees by being open and transparent.  Yet, they understand that the leader always must communicate vision and set direction to reach outcomes.   

Authentic leaders can be open, direct, and empathetic, all the while creating thriving organizations.  Perhaps being true to ourselves is all about our purpose. And perhaps, like the Black Panther, we can lead a whole generation of people to greatness.

Are you ready to be authentic?

“And That’s A Brilliant Glimpse of Insight!”

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