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Why You Need an Authentic Leadership Brand

By Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D.

Tacy Byham While there’s no perfect way to be a leader, there are clearly identifiable practices that set apart truly effective leaders from average or poor ones. Research by Morgan McCall, Jim Collins, Robert Hogan, and DDI shows that successful leaders demonstrate three key attributes—we call them differentiators—that help them gain confidence and skill in leading a group. When leaders embrace these differentiators, they are successful out of the gate. They are:

Your First Leadership Job
  • Be authentic.
  • Bring out the best in people.
  • Be receptive to feedback.

These attributes are commendable for everyone, whatever their life’s work. Good leaders eventually realize their true value—some earlier and some later—during their career. Research shows that these differentiators can predict future success.

That’s important information for you on two other fronts. Leaders coach and develop others, as well as select future peers and team members. It’s a good idea to keep a look-out for these attributes in others. Additionally, these skills help individual contributors make their mark and distinguish themselves as strong candidates for advancement.

Let’s take a deeper dive into being authentic. You can find more information on bringing out the best in people and being receptive to feedback in my new book I wrote with Rich Wellins, Your First Leadership Job.

Be Authentic

Nancy was a recent participant in a DDI course for new managers and showed up with a fairly typical problem. She had been so focused on gaining the technical skills she needed to win a job leading a team of IT analysts that she was surprised—and a little hurt—when her new team appeared less than thrilled to see her in charge. “I never estimated how hard it would be to manage people,” she told us.

Nancy made the transition from an individual contributor, where all she had to do was manage herself, to leading a core team of six, with an extended team of 30. To compound her challenge, many members of the extended team ranked higher than she did on the organization chart.

“They’re directors, but I’m only an engineer with no real title,” she explained. She was also the only woman on the team. “I couldn’t get them to attend meetings or even return my calls. I kept thinking, ‘Why won’t they listen to me? Will they ever work with me?’ It scared me.” It wasn’t personal; it was just that she was an unknown quantity in a highly competitive environment. “I realized I had to learn how to talk to people to gain their trust, but I didn’t know how.”

What Nancy experienced with her group is not uncommon among new leaders. The team didn’t really know her. She needed to gain their trust, and a big part of that is showing authenticity. What’s authenticity, you ask?

Being authentic means that your actions mirror what you believe and feel, and that there is no contradiction between what you do and what you say.

Leaders demonstrate authenticity when they:

  • Do what’s right, even in difficult situations.
  • Treat people with respect.
  • Promote trust among others.
  • Keep promises and commitments.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Give credit.
  • Disclose by sharing their thoughts, feelings, and rationale, when appropriate.
  • Display confidence but avoid arrogance.

Conversely, leaders who are inauthentic can have a debilitating effect on the teams they lead. These leaders tend to:

  • Hoard information.
  • Pit team members against each other or play favorites.
  • Disregard team members who don’t agree with them.
  • Ignore tensions and workplace conflict.
  • Blame others for their missteps.
  • Take credit.
  • Radically change their behavior to sound more “leaderly.”
  • Pretend to know everything.

With these behaviors in mind, it should come as no surprise that in the many focus groups we have conducted with senior executives, the importance of authenticity in leaders received resoundingly affirmed—across cultures, industries, and professional sectors.

Executives worry about how their leaders are perceived, and so should you. Why? Authenticity is fueled by integrity, which in turn fosters trust, the fundamental catalyst in the most-admired workplaces. Most-admired workplaces have happier, more engaged, productive, and creative employees. When people trust you, it’s not just good for your reputation; it’s good for business, too.

Cultivating an Authentic You

Like Nancy, new leaders have inherited a group of people whose futures are now linked with theirs. A base-line of trust hasn’t been established yet. There is only one way to overcome that—by interacting with them confidently, honestly, and openly. Show integrity through consistent, well-crafted, honest conversations and behaviors. And stay “real” without disclosing inappropriately to build trust. This is what we mean by authenticity.

Crafting a leadership brand goes beyond being your authentic self, however. You can read about the other two differentiators—bringing out the best in people and being receptive to feedback—in Your First Leadership Job.

Tacy Byham, Ph.D. is DDI's Chief Executive Officer.

Posted: 30 Sep, 2015,
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