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Creating Successful Leaders

“Authentic leaders remain focused on where they are going but never lose sight of where they came from.’

Striving to be authentic is hard enough on its own, but in a leadership role it can seem impossible. There’s the constant battle between expressing our true selves and managing the competing personalities and opinions of those around us. It’s the dance between plain-speaking and politically-conscious wording. It’s the struggle of trying to remain “human” in a leadership role, while simultaneously appearing resilient to any bumps in the road.

And believe me, we must stay human if we are to be effective leaders. People want a leader who is approachable, honest, forthcoming; someone who knows where they are coming from. They want to know that you have opinions and emotions outside of your role, that you have passions and hobbies, that you root for a sports team or enjoy a night out. We can all point to a leader in our lives who was distant, stale, or off-putting, and I’m willing to bet that the person you’re envisioning wasn’t a very effective leader.

So how exactly do we convey our authentic, imperfect selves right along side the impression of strength and confidence that all leaders must possess?

1. Striking A Balance 

This takes time. You must make an effort to stay approachable and friendly, but also know when to assume the “fearless leader” role. There is no formula for this, unfortunately, because every leadership role requires qualities specific to the organization they lead. The main thing to do is to be observant and receptive to your environment. You must also be flexible, willing to adapt.

2. Failing

Great leaders accept their flaws and learn from them. You will make mistakes, as we all do, and you may be inclined to shove it under the rug. Don’t do this. While mistakes are embarrassing, they provide an opportunity for you to show your human side. If you handle it with grace and humility, and focus on how to handle situations more aptly in the future, your organization will see that you’re authentic and appreciate you for it.

3. Making Clear Distinctions

I used to give my staff hand-written thank you notes when they did a great job. One man in particular held on to my note, as it reminded him that he was a capable, valued worker. At an appropriate time, I was able to let my leader guard down and express my appreciation. This strengthened my connection to this member of my team, which in turn boosted productivity. The trick is learning when and where it’s okay to lose the leader role and “be yourself.”

 

I firmly believe leadership is a learned trait. Sure, some are naturally more prone to leading than others, but with time, patience, and a willingness to be brave, you can teach yourself the balance needed to lead authentically and effectively.

 

Goffee, Rob and Gareth Jones. “Managing Authenticity: The Paradox of Great Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, December 2005, accessed April 23 2013. http://hbr.org/2005/12/managing-authenticity-the-paradox-of-great-leadership/ar/1

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