Are You an Authentic Leader?
By Kim Stamp
There are multiple facets cut into the rough gemstone that we call leadership.
While it can be maddening to try to figure out what facet to let reflect the light, the facet that is currently resonating with me revolves around the qualities that an effective leader possesses. I have come to believe that being a great leader is less about what we do and more about who we are. For the next few moments, we will move beyond the more common topic of performance-based leadership and instead focus the light on character-based leadership or, what I like to call, authentic leadership.
An authentic leader is genuine in their desire to see others grow and has the ability to focus on the success of the team, rather than their own personal successes. They are both diligent and effective in communicating the vision (future goal), mission (present action), and value (the why) of the organization to those in their sphere of influence. Beyond great communication skills, these types of leaders possess meaningful characteristics like the ability to inspire, motivate, and create an atmosphere of accountability for the people they supervise. Additionally, authentic leaders focus on key components like communication, setting clear expectations with regular feedback, and intentionally asking great questions.
Let’s sharpen our focus a bit more and shine the light on both the characteristics and the components of an authentic leader. The characteristics are those individual, and often inherent, qualities of a successful leader and the components are the mechanisms, or tools, an effective leader utilizes to guide their team. When it comes to leadership, people are more often drawn to a person, than to a strategy. While effective strategies are important, if you can’t capture the loyalty of your people, you will never get them to engage with, or carry out, your strategies.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE LEADERS
Characteristic 1: Charismatic
Genuine leaders-especially if they are somewhat charismatic-draw people into their orbit and cultivate loyalty within their team. This type of sustained loyalty is built on a foundation of trust. The easiest way to earn someone’s trust is to be accessible, reliable, supportive and willing to concentrate on your team’s growth and your team’s success. These types of leaders are characteristically stellar communicators who inspire their team by clearly presenting the organization’s vision and by creating a collaborative culture. They also adapt to change quickly and take responsibility for the team’s failures rather than shifting the blame to others.
Characteristic 2: Team-Oriented
In addition to being wonderful communicators, authentic leaders are generally people who are supportive and who demonstrate a willingness to have hard conversations with their team when needed. They understand the importance of creating an atmosphere of accountability, which is accomplished by setting clear expectations and following up with frequent feedback. The hallmark of a successful leader is a successful team. These leaders do not focus on their individual success, or how they are perceived, but rather, they give focus to the team’s success. An effective leader will pay more attention to the why, which is fueled by team efforts, than to the how.
Characteristic 3: Vision-Focused
About 40 years ago, a mentor of mine said “vision is caught, not taught,” and that has stuck with me. We as leaders must be carriers and examples of the vision in such a way that people catch it and want to be a part of seeing it come to pass. We need to exemplify the company values in genuine, tangible ways so that our team has the opportunity to see these values in action, and work with us to see the organization succeed.
COMPONENTS OF AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP
While the characteristics shared here are concerned with who a leader is, the components are focused on what a leader does. Essentially, the components are the best practices, and tools, used to achieve effective, authentic leadership.
Component 1: Effective Communication
There are many key components that successful leaders demonstrate but perhaps none more important than the ability to communicate effectively. We must clearly talk about both the vision and mission of the organization, and it is imperative that we as leaders give our team specific goals to work toward. But leadership doesn’t stop there. You’ll notice that I have listed elements of communication in both the characteristic and the components of a successful leader. That’s because good communication should be the thread that runs through all we do. It is both who we are and what we do. After we lay out the vision, mission, and goals, we need to equip our team with the tools they need to be successful. Then we must give them regular feedback on their progress. An excellent leader will not wait for an annual review to tell an employee how they are doing. They will give consistent and frequent feedback and take the time to both encourage and redirect their team. Imagine if a coach sat on the sidelines of a football game and didn’t give players feedback until the end of the game. In the same way, waiting for an employee’s annual review to provide coaching is not only ineffective, but it could be disastrous for your business.
Component 2: Thought-Provoking Questions
Another tool an authentic leader uses is the ability to ask great questions. Taking the time to intentionally get to know what’s going on with our team will prove to be an invaluable tool for those of us who use it. The key here is to be intentional and to be patient. Asking a generalized, “Is everybody doing OK?” at the start of a staff meeting — which is usually met with everyone nodding mindlessly — is not going to cut it. Our questions need to want an answer; an honest answer. So, take the time to be patient and wait for that answer to come. Don’t rush onto the next thing on your agenda. If you don’t have the time to genuinely listen, then find another time to ask the question. Last, do not formulate your response while someone is answering your question. Take a breath and pay attention to their words and body language. People can feel it when we aren’t actively listening, so make the effort to be engaged in the process.
An authentic leader resembles a coach more than they resemble a boss. They call the play (communicate clear expectations), hold practices (provide the tools for success via training), and then cheer from the sidelines when the team executes properly and makes adjustments when they don’t. If the team fails to execute, it’s often because the coach did not effectively communicate the play, or they didn’t provide adequate training. There are, of course, times when a team member fails to meet goals and expectations; this requires the necessary action to correct the issue and is outside the intended scope of this article.
Take some time to evaluate your leadership style and determine if your approach is creating an environment of success for your team. Ask for honest feedback, and decide in advance to not get defensive if you hear things that are hard to process. If your team is not functioning at the level you’d like, or you are experiencing a lot of turnover or low morale, it’s time to re-evaluate your process. If your team is running smoothly and you have great staff retention, you are most likely an authentic leader who values your staff and regularly displays your organization’s vision. If that’s you, congratulations! Continue to reflect the light and, if you wouldn’t mind, take a minute to shoot me an email and share your greatest leadership success story!
Kim Stamp is a PPS Certified Administrator and the Business Director for IRG – South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Washington State. She can be reached at Kim.Stamp@irgpt.com.