Leadership requires influence. Whether in times of crisis or amidst the everyday operational challenges you face, the pressure is on. As a busy corporate training leader, you’re trying to keep your head above water and influence your training team toward achieving its goals. The pressure to succeed may cause you to influence in ways that are uncharacteristic of the leader you want to be. That often further strains the workplace environment, relationships and the well-being of yourself, your employees and your organization. As a result, business outcomes, and your influence, suffer.
Do you want to elevate your influence? If so, you have to lead with authentic influence to create a workplace where people want to work and feel valued in their roles.
Whether in your role as a learning and development (L&D) leader, or as you develop leaders within your organization, authenticity is key to becoming influential and having greater impact.
Why is Authenticity Important to Influence?
As an influential leader, you offer ideas and perspectives that move others in actions, behavior, opinions or beliefs toward a mutually beneficial outcome. Influence is relationship-oriented, and constructive relationships are built on a foundation of trust. If someone is going to trust you, they have to know who they’re dealing with. That requires authenticity.
Consider all the different people and situations you encounter every day. As an authentic leader, you engage as the situation requires in a way that is ethical and true to who you are, aware and accepting of your own strengths and flaws. You become skilled at adapting authentically, with a genuine concern about the outcomes that result from your influence.
Beware of Two Extremes
What can sabotage your authenticity? Be careful about falling into either of two potential behavioral extremes:
There are many times when you are not the subject matter expert (SME) in a discipline. Imagine that you are attempting to influence decisions about how development should be structured and the resources and infrastructure required to support the plan. You’re not a technology expert, and you’re really nervous that your projections on the return on investment (ROI) may be a little off. You feel like an impostor.
According to Psychology Today, “[impostors] feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think – and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.” Some 70% of individuals will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, write Jaruwan Skulk and James Alexander in their article “The Imposter Phenomenon,” published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Beware: Imposter syndrome can diminish your self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence and, consequently, your influence, if left unmanaged.
Alternatively, when you’re not the SME but believe you have all the answers anyway, and think that everyone else is wrong, you’re likely plagued by a superiority complex. Some work environments unfortunately contribute to this dynamic.
“Superiority complex differs from genuine confidence in that confidence is a result of having an actual skill, success, or talent in a specific area. In contrast, a superiority complex is a false confidence or bravado when little or no success, achievement, or talent actually is there,” writes Kimberly Holland in the Healthline article, “What Is a Superiority Complex?”
Beware: A superiority complex may be masking internal feelings or fear of inferiority, embarrassment and disappointment.
3 Keys to Authentic Influence
How do you avoid these two extremes and be the most authentic you? These three actions steps are key to your ability to lead with authenticity and, as a result, elevate your influence and impact as a learning leader.
Step 1.) Discover Your Authentic Self
Who are you, really? Your ability to show up authentically means first discovering your authentic self. Assessments can help you understand your personality, behavioral preferences, motivations and emotional intelligence (EQ). A stress assessment to understand triggers and the impact on your behavior can also be beneficial. Feedback from others can also mitigate blind spots and help you understand other people’s experiences and interactions with you.
From these insights, identify the characteristics that authentically reflect you. How do these characteristics align with your leadership style?
Step 2.) Learn to be Adaptable, Not Artificial
Leadership involves addressing a variety of situations, needs and challenges. You assess what that interaction or situation calls for, and, with that knowledge, adapt how you respond. That is the skill of an authentic leader. Inquire and listen to what others need in order to respond most appropriately. As you adapt, you’re not fundamentally changing who you are, but adjusting your approach.
How might you need to adapt your style to best align with the culture, values and needs of the organization, situation and individuals involved?
Step 3.) Practice Humility
Don’t think of yourself as better than other people. Keep your pride and arrogance in check. You do need to demonstrate confidence, however. But, do so in a way that doesn’t diminish or belittle the value of other people.
“When leaders are true to themselves and admit their mistakes or failures, it gives others permission to do the same, changing the norms of the workplace,” explains Vanessa Buote in the Harvard Business Review article, “Most Employees Feel Authentic at Work, but It Can Take a While.”
Remember that your self-worth is not dependent on how much you know or how good you are at facilitation.
How can you take the focus off of yourself and help others shine?
Lead With Authentic Influence
The workplace is forever changed. To successfully attract and retain talent in the future, leaders in talent development and across the organization are called to lead with authentic influence. What kind of leader will you be?