Authenticity is considered an essential quality for modern business leaders, but being an authentic leader is often simplified to just being yourself. Throughout our lives we are told that being ourselves is the key to happiness and professional success, but amid the myriad pressures managers face in an ever-changing business environment, the “just be yourself” (JBY) approach can even lead to lead to disastrous results.
And yet numerous studies show that authenticity is a professional advantage. Some would even say it’s “the gold standard for leadership† So how do you achieve authenticity at work if it’s not as simple as JBY?
For starters, authentic leaders understand that they are not perfect and tend to see themselves as work in progress. They are not afraid to admit ignorance and take advice from others, and they tend to actively seek help and guidance to improve their inner lives, including their character, values, and mindset.
They inspire confidence in those they lead because their actions are aligned with the values they espouse.
Unfortunately, these types of leaders are relatively rare, given that: less than half of employees trust their bosses completely. However, if you want to be counted in the trustworthy minority, here are three things you need to stop doing to achieve your own version of authentic leadership.
1. Use the same leadership style in every situation
If you’re trying to be authentic, you’ll likely approach every situation with the same leadership style, never deviating from the style that fits your personal preference. Not only does this not help your efforts to be authentic, but it also diminishes your effectiveness. In the business world, you face many different challenges, and you will be most successful if you adapt your leadership style accordingly. Don’t worry, being flexible doesn’t make you a fake or a bad leader. In fact, the best leaders can tailor their behavior to the people they work with and their specific goal at a given time.
For example, you could take a coaching leadership approach with an employee who is no longer a novice but may need more information about your industry or additional guidance. And you could take a pace-setting leadership approach with another employee who seems to thrive on recognition and rewards, but struggles with burnout. Steve Jobs often donned his coaching leadership hat when he gave design teams feedback on their prototypes. He let designers do their job, but occasionally came by to challenge and guide them.
write about leaders and their coaching styles, Stephanie Peskett, senior vice president and partner at consultancy BTS, said: “Unfortunately, far too many people don’t understand how to develop their employees. They instinctively want to help and coach. But they make mistakes, such as waiting for annual reviews to offer advice. or just telling people what to do instead of encouraging them to find answers.”
2. Being a completely open book
If you take a JBY approach to leadership, you may be tempted to be a completely open book for your team. And it is true that your employees value transparency. In fact, most people in your life probably do. Transparency fosters trust, which is arguably the most important ingredient in almost any relationship. Show your colleagues that you value and trust them by keeping them informed about key strategic initiatives, the health of the company and your vision for the future.
However, that doesn’t mean you should always provide all the information people want from you. Revealing half-formed plans or deals that may or may not come to fruition doesn’t benefit anyone. If your colleagues need to know something, tell them. But instead of being an open book to anyone who asks you, consider the right timing and medium for your message.
3. Prioritize chatter
While you’re JBYing, you might be tempted to extend your water cooler time with teammates. At first glance, this seems like a good idea. After all, getting to know your employees can be both highly rewarding and beneficial to employee engagement. But keep in mind that getting to know your team is about the quality of your interactions rather than the quantity of them. In other words, you don’t have to talk small talk to be an authentic leader.
Likewise, it doesn’t mean planning more happy hours and company outings or getting cozy at the annual holiday party. Instead, focus on building relationships based on listening to your employees’ needs and ideas. If they feel heard, they want to contribute. Otherwise, they’ll want to find a new job – and their decision to leave won’t be influenced by your lack of chatter about the water cooler. Schedule regular check-in meetings and let your employees manage the agenda. And when employees talk to you, make eye contact and avoid the countless digital distractions at your fingertips.
The best leaders don’t just show up to work and “be themselves” to win employees over and overcome complex business challenges. It may sound paradoxical, but authentic leadership takes years to master and a lot of deliberate practice. At the same time, it requires avoiding traps like the three above, which may seem to cultivate authenticity but in fact do the opposite.