WHY AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP? WHY NOW?
Tips for honing your skills on
your leadership journey
By Meg McKeen
Do you remember the first time you were authentic? I certainly don’t remember when I was, and I suspect you don’t either!
Unlike in the traditional classroom-style learning we do as insurance professionals, authenticity—like empathy or integrity—is billed as a need-to-have skill but isn’t something that is easily or readily added to a course curriculum.
After all, authenticity can be hard to pinpoint, but rather is one of those things that you just seem to know when you see it or feel it.
“Authentic leadership,” a term coined in 2003 by Bill George in his book by the same name, isn’t a new concept; we can point to leaders throughout prior generations who could be described in this way. But in the decades since, as witnessed in organizations around the globe, authentic leadership has proven to be critical for building an organization’s inclusive culture and ultimate bottom-line success, and the most preferred by the stakeholders of our organizations, never more so than today.
I spy an authentic leader
Authentic leaders can be all around us—in our organizations, in our communities, and even in our families.
You’ll recognize authentic leaders by their actions, as they are consistent with their words. They tend to be curious and highly self-aware. They can see challenges through a lens that is not their own and are likely to engage others and their own experience to aid in decision-making. You’ll often witness an authentic leader pulling up a chair, quite literally, and simply listening.
An authentic leader may be described as brave; after all, saying what you mean and not what you think others want to hear isn’t something all leaders are able or willing to do.
It’s important to note that an authentic leader isn’t perfect, but they also understand that perfection isn’t the goal.
I suspect as you read these words, it’s likely you’ve conjured a vision of a leader you’ve known along the way, or perhaps one you’ve known who missed the mark. Perhaps you’re realizing that you have an opportunity to lean into your own authentic leadership style a bit further, too.
So how can you embrace authenticity as you develop your own leadership acumen?
The many versions of you
If you’ve arrived in this season of your leadership journey with the realization that you very much have a different persona for the various ways you show up in your own life, you’re not alone.
Many of us have a “work” version of ourselves and then another that exists once we cross the threshold, leaving our in-person or remote office. The version of you that your friends and family see might include your quirky sense of humor and your big feelings.
Clients and colleagues? Perhaps the version of you they see is consistently composed, and cool and calculated with your reactions.
Without even being aware, we create these personas to form boundaries that shield us from vulnerability or perceived weakness, and often because this style of leadership is what was modeled for us by past leaders or within our own cultural experience.
But with so many individuals today re-evaluating the place that their work fits within their life, and craving leadership from those around them that is true, consistent, and real, those boundaries have become increasingly blurred, and we’re invited to embrace our whole selves as leaders.
[A]n authentic leader isn’t perfect, but they also understand that perfection isn’t the goal.
Honing your skills
I hate to break it to you, but the words on this page won’t teach you how to be a more authentic leader. Finding and using your own authentic voice takes time, patience, and practice. There’s no right way to be authentic and, in fact, your willingness to leap without certainty is a key component of authentic leadership, too.
As you navigate your own leader-ship journey, consider:
- Checking in with your values. As a leader in your organization, community or family, many look to you to ensure you’re upholding the core values or tenets of that group. But how are your own personal values right now? It’s wise to take a minute to identify those values, and to be sure those are in alignment as well.
- Checking your messaging. Authenticity begets trust, and those around you will be weighing your words and your intent. Consider asking yourself these questions before disseminating information or ideas and then adjust as needed:
- Am I being intentionally vague?
- Am I withholding pertinent information?
- Have I sought input from perspectives other than my own?
- How would I feel if I were receiving this message?
- Being kind to yourself. When you start showing up differently for those who know you, it can feel awkward, clumsy and exhausting! Know that this is part of your leadership journey and that your willingness to show up in a way that is less-than-perfect is yet another indicator of your willingness to embrace an authentic leadership style.
- Changing your perspective. Authentic leaders seek ideas and resources outside their vocation or industry. If you’ve attended industry-specific conferences or events this past year, also consider attending learning events with a focus on personal growth and development. Perhaps choose a non-fiction book from a different section at the airport bookstore next time or a podcast that doesn’t have the word “business” in its description.
The risk of authenticity
Famed author and speaker Mel Robbins shared on Twitter in 2018: “Everybody has a chapter that they don’t read out loud.” In these words, Robbins offers an important reminder that your experience is just that, yours, and leaning into your authentic self as a leader doesn’t have to come at the expense of your own boundaries. In fact, having and honoring your own boundaries sends yet another positive signal to those around you—modeling that it’s okay for them to have and honor their own boundaries, too.
A final note: Leadership is often synonymous with expertise and authority, so having concern that your own would diminish if you share the less-than-expert parts of you makes sense. But I challenge you to consider that choosing to stay in that expert place—where you might feel safe and comfortable—is an even greater risk to the cultures we’re nurturing in our organizations today.
Meg McKeen, CIC, founded Adjunct Advisors LLC, in 2018, with the simple belief that we can and must do more to support the individuals who choose a career in insurance. Her experience working for more than two decades in underwriting, leadership, and sales within the industry fuels her work as a consultant today, in which Meg now holds space, at the crossroads of personal and professional development, for insurance professionals as they grow their sales and leadership acumen and organizations in the midst of cultural change, through private coaching, consulting engagements, and the podcast she hosts, Bound & DeterminedSM. Learn more at www.adjunctadvisors.com.