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Authentic Leadership: How Do You Get There?

Authentic leadership is an invitation to be our true best selves, not some idealized version of a leader. And it is no easy task to develop the skills to be our authentic selves in today's complex working environments. The best way to develop self-awareness and your authentic style is through practice and feedback. Business simulations enable experiential learning in high-context situations. They create ideal environments for building your “leadership muscle” that accommodates your best self, all through understanding your strengths and triggers.  

But what do authentic leaders do? Which skills do you want to target to build more authenticity in your interactions?

Knowing and trusting who you are while building your leadership capabilities is the path to authentic leadership. Three key aspects of authentic leadership are:

  • caring for the whole by remembering the strategy and purpose and considering the potential impact on varied individuals, organizations, and communities
  • inspiring trust by modeling integrity, courage, and authenticity
  • applying interpersonal agility to respond effectively based on the needs of others and situations

Caring for the Whole

Whatever your title or role, you can take a leadership perspective by considering the bigger picture. This often means keeping the organization’s vision and your team’s strategy at the center — in your own mind and in communications with others. Where are we trying to go? Why is it worth the effort? And how do we intend to get there? How does this current action or decision fit within the big picture?

It also means considering the people who will be affected by what you do. As a leader, how broadly can you expand your circle of concern? Who will be affected within your organization, within client organizations, and in the broader community?

How do you invite others to step into their leadership by reminding them of larger impacts? What questions might you pose to invite a more complete consideration of situations and the people affected?

Inspiring Trust

People will agree to be led by you when you earn their trust. You earn trust over time by maintaining integrity as you make and receive promises. Are you making commitments that you can keep, while accurately considering your capacity? Are you making reasonable requests with a genuine interest in considering what is possible and sometimes making necessary (and often difficult) adjustments?

Having the courage to speak what you know and the humility to remember how much you don’t know is a combination that builds trust. Leaders address complex issues in a way that others can understand. This might mean taking the time to speak with care, explain your thinking, share your data, and/or check for understanding. It might mean communicating quickly with a clear explanation for why speed is important. When people believe they genuinely see you and also feel seen by you, they experience you as authentic.

Interpersonal Agility

Considering your impact on others will provide the information and motivation you need to be an agile leader. Different circumstances and different people call for different action steps and communication styles. When you consider what is important at this time for this project and for this person, you can be agile and adjust to circumstances.

Being authentic does not mean always being the same. You can be “true to yourself” by bringing to the table the many aspects of who you are. Being authentic means considering what these people and this situation need and being true to how that calls you into leadership.

Finding Your Authentic Leadership

Practicing these three elements of authentic leadership in a style that suits you is the path to more effective leadership. At Insight Experience, we support you on that path. Through interactive learning experiences, you discover more about your own strengths and have the opportunity to practice skills in a safe environment. Working with a team of fellow learners, you “catch yourself being yourself” and understand your impact on others. Stepping into a leadership position in a simulated organization, you establish purpose and strategy and see the results of decisions you make. Interacting with coaches during role plays and with your team members in the workshop experience, you practice flexing your style and technique.

You will not lead exactly like anyone else does. If you naturally find ideas popping into your mind and speak with clarity, you might be one of the first to speak. If you tend to process internally while taking in varied pieces of information and form opinions carefully, you might speak only once, asking the vital question that opens new viewpoints. Discover how you care for the whole, inspire trust, agilely respond to varied circumstances, and step into authentic leadership.

Leslie Becknell Marx
Leslie Becknell Marx
Leslie Becknell Marx focuses on authentic communication, creative engagement, and values-based decision-making. At Insight Experience, she works with clients to develop capabilities focused on Organizational Leadership. She brings her experience in business and understanding of personal development to effectively facilitate business simulations and draw out deep learning that connects leadership to real-world results. Leslie's educational background includes a Master of International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a Master of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School.