Leadership is more important than ever before, yet true leaders are in short supply. There is a huge crisis of confidence in leaders. Since the financial crash of 2008, distrust in leaders has dramatically increased. Only one-third of people trust leaders, and my research shows that we are attracted to the wrong type of charismatic leaders. How can we get the leaders the world needs?
“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you” (Richard Branson).
In my new book, “Yours Truly,” I use the stories of some of the most inspirational leaders around the world to illustrate the findings of my two decades of academic research on authentic leadership. What I have learned is that authenticity is more than the “just be yourself” adage. It also means growing into your best self and being greater than yourself – what I have called the three Hs of authentic leadership: heart, habit and harmony. These drivers are behind the world’s great leaders. They follow their heart, they make learning a habit and they create harmonious workplaces.
Authentic leadership is about cultivating your unique personality and life story to serve the needs of multiple stakeholders – customers, employees, investors and society in general. Here are the nine skills that all leaders must develop if they want to become and remain authentic.
Skill 1: Find and Cultivate Your Passion
Authentic leaders do things that are important to them, and their passion is contagious. They feel less stress and more happiness. When leaders are passionate about what they do, employees report higher engagement at work. Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious, thereby creating a climate of creativity. They turn their passion into a purpose that is greater than themselves.
Skill 2: Stay Humble
Authentic leaders practice confident humility. They know where their strengths lie, celebrating their virtues while recognizing their limitations. They stand by what they believe in, but they are quick to admit their errors. They seek help from others, and then they share the spotlight with them and applaud their contributions.
Skill 3: Embrace Your Life Story
Connecting the dots backward can help us move forward. Authentic leaders learn from their life experiences. They lead through their biography by sharing their lessons with others. Authentic leaders find purpose in their life story. Their emotionally engaging stories help them connect with others. Their life story is a source of motivation and inspiration, because when we listen to good stories, our brains are prone to feel more empathy.
Skill 4: Keep a Growth Mindset
Staying authentic is hard work, but it pays off in the long term. It is like exercising: While you are training, you feel tired, but you know it is good for your body. Being authentic is a work in progress and an endless process of growth. Authentic leaders believe that there is always room for improvement and never stop learning. Carol Dweck, who introduced the concept of a growth mindset, suggests a strategy to cultivate it: Think of a time when you overcame a learning struggle and solved a problem. How did it make you feel?
Skill 5: Develop Empathy and Positive Relations with Others
When it comes to building high-quality relationships, empathy is one skill that separates an authentic leader from others. Leaders depend on other people to successfully complete projects and achieve organizational goals. Great leaders know how to connect with others and are open to honest feedback. Research shows that we tend to overestimate our own leadership skills; most of us think a little too highly of ourselves. Authentic leaders close this gap between their own perceptions and others’ feedback.
Skill 6: Overcome Adversity with Resilience
True leaders master the ability to bounce back from adversity. For them, failure is always an option. They are able to turn bad news into opportunities. When you bring authenticity into your work and life, you feel more comfortable acknowledging your vulnerabilities. Authentic leaders have an internal compass and feel like they are in control of their destiny. For instance, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson was convinced of the importance of authenticity when he was diagnosed with melanoma several years ago. It made him realize “what’s really important in life.” The key for leadership is how authentic people play on their strengths in the face of adversity.
Skill 7: Lead by Example
Share information with others, empower others to make decisions and develop people’s true potential. Genuine leaders show people the way by walking the talk. Consider the case of a CEO of a large German multinational company. He visits all operations, instilling the company’s values of respect and empowerment around the world. In this way, he creates a positive spiral, making others comfortable to stand by what they believe.
Skill 8: Build a Community
Avoid short-term goals, and communicate a global vision for the company. Create moments of truth. Build a common culture and identity around shared values that all employees can buy into. Authentic leaders radically shift the focus from being egocentric in favor of a more collaborative style. Google’s new CEO Sundar Pichai is a good example of this leadership approach with his mantra, “Let others succeed.”
Skill 9: Leave a Legacy
Do well by doing good. Keep in mind the interests of multiple stakeholders. Create a virtuous circle of wealth, and strive for sustainable development. Authentic leaders keep in mind today’s problems without compromising the future. It is never too early to think about the mark you would like to leave on the world.
Authentic people report more happiness, higher self-esteem, more gratitude and better relationships with others. Staying authentic in leadership and life is not easy, but it can be observed, measured and learned. These nine skills are powerful ways you can live an authentic and happy life while transforming your organization into a better workplace. Which one would you focus on first?