Authenticity is the secret of all strong leaders

Nelson Mandela was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs

Authenticity is crucial for leaders. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, you won’t convince anyone. Worse, people may see your lack of conviction, realise the falsity of your words and mistrust your motives.

When trust goes, cynicism sets in – it’s incredibly difficult to influence cynical people, or people who are sceptical about your motives. Followers want someone they can believe in – a leader with a strong strategic focus and a clear vision of where they should be going. People especially like leaders who stand up for them and defend them to the hilt. Leaders with a strong set of values, built on honesty, openness and respect for other people, are the most inspirational of all.

Truly authentic leaders are able to build trust and strong relationships. If those relationships are about mutual benefit, you’ll be able to deal with conflict and difficult situations when the going gets tough. You’ll be able to build high-performance teams that are engaged and able to deliver their full potential. You will be in touch with yourself and your staff, more in tune with what is happening, and therefore able to make better-informed decisions.

If you really want to achieve something, you need an emotional connection with what you have set out to do. Don’t be afraid of exposing yourself by being more emotional. All communication involves risk, and it’s natural to fear that your authentic self will be rejected.

The trouble is, being inauthentic is the greater risk. Authenticity is about lowering your guard and being more open about feelings, uncertainties, risks and issues. It is only natural to be reserved about projecting your personal beliefs onto others. But remember this: no passion and no conviction mean no inspiration.

Here are 10 things you need to do to help you better articulate who you are and what you believe in, and enable you to be more authentic and passionate with your followers.

  1. Define your purpose.
  2. Define your values and beliefs.
  3. Understand your strengths – play to them but don’t trumpet them.
  4. Understand, admit to and mitigate your weaknesses.
  5. Think about the seminal moments in your career and life, and the key lessons that you have carried forward from them. Talk about these moments.
  6. Map your purpose to that of the organisation. Create a picture of success and speak about it more.
  7. Map your values to those of your business.
  8. Show more humanity. Admit mistakes or that you don’t know. Always show respect to others.
  9. Ask yourself whether you show up for the difficult conversations and are visible in challenging times.
  10. Never swallow the truth. Always be optimistic, but never hide the truth.

In short: be visible, be human and be straight with people.

Kevin Murray is chairman of The Good Relations Group and specialises in strategic communications, reputation management and leadership communications coaching. His latest book is Communicate to Inspire: A Guide for Leaders (Kogan Page).

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