Authentic Leadership 101
What does it take to be an authentic leader? Are you born a leader or can you learn how to become one? While some people may have an innate charisma that helps their leadership ability, with the right tools anyone can learn how to be an authentic leader.
You can’t be a leader without garnering the respect of your peers. Ever noticed how some people command respect when they walk in while others shrink into the shadows. It’s about confidence and fairness. Standing tall, giving direct eye-contact and using a loud, low voice are a few ways to project your self confidence to your audience. Being confident in who you are tells other people that you respect yourself, and they might just take your word for it. Your audience also needs to see you being firm but fair when it comes to disputes. There’s another word for an unjust leader; it’s called a tyrant.
Some audiences are harder to sway than others. If you need to get people to do what you want them to do, you need rhetoric. Aristotle defined rhetoric as the ‘art of persuasion.’ He broke it down into three components:
- Logos: Your logical arguments.
- Pathos: Your emotional arguments.
- Ethos: Your character.
These are the elements your audience is looking for you to address when you are trying to be a leader. Instead of dodging their legitimate concerns, anticipate their objections, and have solid reasoning for doing things the way you do. Your emotional arguments should appeal to people’s pride, ego or fear. Use them as needed to enhance your logical arguments and demonstrate the downside of not getting in line with your proposal. On the character end, it goes without saying that you should never use your position to bully or belittle your team members. Try to build them up instead. An authentic leader isn’t afraid of someone else’s success. Show them that you want everyone to succeed. While you’re busy demonstrating your good nature, it never hurts to have a sense of humor. If you’re not joke-inclined, hit up the internet for some relevant one-liners you might be able to use. You are in control of how people perceive you. We are emotional and social creatures. How your team perceives you determines how they think. If you’re thinking: ‘I could never do that,’ you’re underestimating the power of faking it until you make it. Get some practice on those skills with a course in leadership.
Being an authentic leader means being reliable. Whether it’s about delivering projects on time or being a sympathetic ear, a leader behaves in a consistent and reliable manner. No one can tolerate being led by a bipolar baboon who plays favorites. Keep your cool. Think before you speak. These old adages are still around, because they work. Don’t be afraid to ask for time before delivering a judgment or making a decision. But once you make a decision, stick to it. Hemming and hawing aren’t at the top of the list for describing a leader. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on.
Strong leadership is less about innate ability and more about lots of homework. For starters, look into this course on winning business and impressing your superiors. Remember, if you want to come across as a leader, you need to have your speech, convention, or workday planned down to the minute, so that everything runs smoothly. Primarily, leadership demands effective communication; and effective communication requires thorough planning. From memorizing content to flawless non-verbal delivery, you owe it to yourself to rehearse what you want to say, so you can see how it looks. Thomas Hajduk of Carnegie Mellon University used to videotape his students, so they could see themselves exactly as the audience does. That’s a great way to see the difference between how you present and how Tony Robbins does.
Forgo the Battle to Win the War
Leaders are often tested with setbacks and disappointment. In fact, a crisis can be a great way to show your leadership ability. Reassure your team and let them know that you are disappointed too. Demonstrate that there is still a cause worth fighting for. Make them feel that you, or the company, need their help during this critical time. Encourage your team to help come up with solutions and new strategies for success. If you’re talking to outsiders, don’t absolve yourself or the company of blame. Take ownership of the mistake and apologize if necessary and commit to reparations (if you can get all this past the company lawyers.) Focus on the big picture and the long term goals of the future. Even if it’s a gaff on a smaller scale, owning up to your mistake and apologizing is generally a better tactic than hoping that someone else will forget your misstep.
At the end of the day, leadership is about bringing people together toward a common goal. You can’t just tell them you’re the right leader for the job, you have to show it to them through your behavior, your actions, and your words. It takes some simple steps:
- Practice and prepare your communication strategy.
- Make sure everyone has the same goal.
- Present the logical reasons for your ideas.
- Present the emotional reasons for your ideas.
- Demonstrate your leadership ability by standing tall, speaking proudly and having a humble and open demeanor. Someone who is perfect doesn’t inspire people. Someone owns up to their shortcomings—albeit not by botching the project—inspires people.
- Encourage and inspire others to take initiative and become leaders themselves. Invest in your people, and they will invest in you.
Remember, leadership doesn’t just happen. It requires an investment of time and energy to become the leader you can be. Whether it’s a book or a course, a true leader takes action to get to the next level.
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