What does being an authentic leader really mean?

The year was 2003, and I had just been made redundant. For the first time in my life. Until that point, I had never been “let go” in any capacity from a job. So it was a bit of a blow. Not completely unexpected, but a blow, nonetheless. My wife was not working, and we had two small boys at the time. The challenge became what to do next. 

And it was not just me who was in that position. Between 300 and 400 workers were all of a sudden worried about their future. Actually, I might even write about that whole experience in my LinkedIn Newsletter this Friday. Stay tuned. 

Back to the story. One of the people that I worked with was very concerned about where he would get his income from, moving forward. Same story, wife, kids, and a mortgage.  

He was in a quandary though, because one of the first jobs that came up was with a tobacco company. Yes, his job was going to be in the office (he was an Engineer), but there was conflict. Conflict between income and values. Conflict between job security and other’s safety. Conflict between a good job opportunity, and to have a tobacco employer on his email signature. 

What decision did my esteemed colleague make? Read on find out. 

The challenge that this Engineer faced was being truly authentic. Acting in line with his beliefs and values. And that’s what authenticity is. Being congruent. If you say you believe it, or value something, you lean into that in your decision making.  

I have always had an issue with being authentic because I used to think it was being able to say what you thought, unfiltered, and unhinged. Just say it as it is. That is not the case. Being authentic is quite the opposite to that – and it is acting in a way that doesn’t hurt others. It is about controlling your languaging and caring enough to be a good human. Whilst sticking to your beliefs and values. Doing what is right, in the right way, not what is popular. 

So, what does authenticity look like in action? 

1. Authenticity incorporates integrity 

The first part of authenticity is having high integrity. Which means you say what you are going to do and then you do it. That is the integrity piece. 

The authentic piece is about being able to say why you made this important decision, and why it aligned with your beliefs and values. I keep using these two words, because they are big drivers of our behaviour. Beliefs drive our behaviour unconsciously (through our habits), and our values drive our behaviour consciously (though our decisions). 

You can’t be authentic until you are clear on what you stand for, can language that, and then can make decisions based on those things. Without compromise. That is authenticity in a nutshell. 

2. Authenticity incorporates intent 

We are in 2023 people. The hay days of the 1900s are behind us, and our decisions and language needs to carry the weight of care with it.  

That is not to say you don’t have the hard conversations. It is to say that you plan those, stick to the script, and have the right intent before launching into the conversation. Intent always comes first. 

If you have ever been to one of our leadership training programs, you will know that we talk about the word intent a lot. Your intent should be to help not hurt, to heal, not harm. If your intent is pure, that should come through in your behaviour. There will be times when it doesn’t, and you need to apologise or unpack an action with someone. The thing is that we don’t get judged on our intent, we get judged on our behaviour. We might not mean to be hurtful, but that is the way it is perceived.  

Never go into a big decision (people related or investment related) without the right intent. You will struggle to behave appropriately. 

3. Authenticity incorporates impact 

To me, this is the biggest and best thing about being authentic. People get it. They buy in. They appreciate it, and they are impacted in a good way by your decision and your care factor.  

The one thing that we know about authentic leaders is that they consider the impact of their decisions on others, prior to making it. They invest the time and effort, to make sure they understand the outcomes and the consequences of their decision making.  

This is a big part of being authentic. There is an element of empathy in all decision making and leaders that can do this by considering the outcomes of their decisions. It might not change the decision, but it helps with empathy and compassion for others that are affected. 

Your team will know that you have thought forward about your decision or behaviour and will be impacted by your concern (generally). It is the leaders that make their teams their priority that have an impact on their team members, and who are therefore remembered positively by their team members into the future. That is having an impact. 

Back to the story. Yes, that leader took the job with the tobacco company. He needed the income, and the job was a good opportunity. The interesting thing is that the job would have suited both of us. So, would I have taken a similar role in a tobacco company? Hard to say. I didn’t put in for it, so that might be the answer.  

Authentic leadership is all about integrity, intent, and impact. It isn’t about saying what you think or feel. What does authenticity mean to you? 

And please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

If you would like to learn more about Anton or The Guinea Group, please click hereto book into Anton’s calendar, to:

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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