The One Skill You Need to Be an Authentic Leader
We need authentic leaders today–more than ever before. Leaders who inspire trust, and confidence, and loyalty. And you can be that person–but there’s one skill you need, above all others, to be an authentic leader. You must be able to listen.
The time for authentic leadership is now. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the public’s confidence in the traditional structures of American leadership is now fully undermined and has been replaced with a strong sense of fear, uncertainty, and disillusionment.
Leaders who inspire trust will help pull us out of this slump by demonstrating self-awareness, honesty, and courage; by building honest relationships based on their real values. And, by listening. To themselves, and to the people with whom they work and socialize.
Authentic leaders aren’t afraid to express themselves honestly, to ask the difficult questions and take action based on what they hear.
Here’s an example of an authentic leader who has impressed me greatly. On my recent trip to Brazil, I met Cristina Palmaka, the President of SAP Brazil, one of the most important global subsidiaries of the company. Cristina is a highly experienced professional in the IT segment in Brazil with a strong focus on innovation. I found her wonderful because she shared her fears, likes, dislikes, and own leadership path with the group in a very open and honest way. She is highly influential because of this authenticity.
“Being authentic as a leader is hard work and takes years of experience in leadership roles. No one can be authentic without fail; everyone behaves inauthentically at times, saying and doing things they will come to regret,” writes Bill George, author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. “The key is to have the self-awareness to recognize these times and listen to close colleagues who point them out.”
Self-awareness and listening are closely linked. To be self-aware, you must listen to yourself first and understand how your experiences, values, beliefs, gender, education, and social status can impact what you hear, and how you take action. Armed with that insider knowledge, you can listen, free of assumptions and judgments, to the people you lead, and make strategic decisions based on what you have learned from your discussions.
Another authentic leader I’ve had the privilege of working with is Kevin Delaney, VP of Learning and Development for LinkedIn. Kevin is an HR leader with 20 years of experience in Fortune companies, start-ups, and high-growth technology companies. Kevin is very open about his personal life – his good and bad experiences, his hobbies, and his kids. I have been struck by his careful listening and honest and constructive feedback when he spoke to groups or shared his opinion in meetings.
Authentic leaders demonstrate other essential qualities, like looking at the whole person for the qualities they can bring to a team, or motivating and challenging a team to perform at high standards. Or admitting to mistakes, honestly and openly–and then moving on.
One such leader is Ralf Drews, my co-author. Ralf is the current Chairman of the Board / CEO at Greif Velox Maschinenfabrik. Ralf gives and takes direct feedback well and is known for his uncompromising integrity, and his ability to positively influence not only his direct team but an entire organization.
In today’s world, we really need authentic leaders like Cristina, Kevin, and Ralf. And we need you. If you find yourself drawn to leadership, know that the world needs your perspective, your talents, and your ability to listen to the people around you.
Don’t be afraid to go for it. Don’t feel like you can’t admit when you don’t know something. Authentic leaders are all about asking questions, listening to the answers, and leveraging the strengths of those with whom they work.
As Bill George says, “… it really gets down to the lives you touch every day in your life …and people you don’t even know sometimes whom you’ve impacted by who you are, what you stand for, by being true to what you believe.” So learn to listen. To yourself and to the people you lead or hope one day to lead.
And, if you’d like help developing your leadership skills? Orhelp building and sustaining your high-performing team? Contact me.
A version of this post published on Inc.com
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