When I think about the successful leaders I have met in my career, they all have one characteristic in common: Authenticity. They showed up as who they really were.
Unsuccessful leaders often show up as who they think they should be, or who they want you to think they are. And though we humans don’t always trust our instincts, those instincts often suss out the inauthentic in those around us…especially our leaders. We know at some level when we are dealing with hidden agendas, hypocrisy or hidden selves.
Think about politicians. When’s the last time you felt that a politician was authentic? So often, my sense is that they are pandering, telling us what we want to hear. Like how one simple (it’s always simple) idea will change everything. “Cut taxes (or raise them) and get ready for prosperity!” “Get rid of that guy (or gal) and all will be sunshine and roses!” “This (tax cut, tax increase, bill, change, idea) will create jobs!”
Maybe it’s impossible for an authentic person to win an election in our flawed system. Maybe telling your truth won’t raise the megabucks necessary to run for even a local office. But wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a candidate say, “Sorry, but all the easy answers are taken. Everyone…everyone…is going to have to give up something to get something. You’ll get things you like, and things you don’t. But in the end, we will all be better off as individuals because we as a nation will be better off.”
Ah, to dream…to dream.
Inauthenticity can work…for awhile. But inevitably, a leader’s true self comes out. And when it does, the sense of betrayal and loss of trust can be devastating to an organization.
The leaders I know that choose to be who are really are…warts and all…are the ones who are building long-term success. Even when things go wrong, or people disagree with their direction, they have built a reserve of trust in their intentions. And when people trust a leader’s intentions, they are willing and committed followers.
Choosing authenticity ain’t easy. It takes courage, clarity and confidence. But in the long run, it’s easier and more sustainable to show up as who you really are, not a specter of your true self.