Minisode: Authentic Leadership with Jenn DeWall

Full Transcript Below:

Jenn DeWall:

Hi everyone. It is Jenn DeWall here. And this week, you are going to listen to a “minisode” all about authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is actually quite a buzzword these days. And really, it’s just because people are craving to have more of a genuine connection with their colleagues. I mean, and it makes sense, right? We spend most of our time with our boss, with our colleagues, or in our work environment. So we want to feel like this is a place where we genuinely connect, that we feel supported and that people care about us. One thing to keep in mind about authentic leadership is that it’s a great way to build trust. As a matter of fact, according to the 2020 Edelman trust barometer, 55% of people trust big business organizations to do what is right. Part of that challenge with trust is that we aren’t always authentic, meaning we may not be as transparent and may not be as clear. The same 2020 Edelman trust barometer found that 66% of employees don’t feel confident that their current leaders can successfully address challenges. These are some reasons you want to forge a deeper connection with the people you work with.

What is Authentic Leadership?

So what is authentic leadership? This is someone else’s definition, but I think it’s really pertinent to how we’re going to be talking about it on this minisode. “Authentic leadership is about leading from the core of who we are to inspire each of us to our best contribution toward a shared mission.” That is a quote from Henna Inam. We want to think about leading from an understanding of who we are at our core. This is not the person that we feel like we should be, or maybe trying to pretend that we’re someone that we’re not, but we’re trying to lead authentically and pull out authenticity from those that we lead and those that we interact with.

But let’s also talk about what it’s not. So, first of all, authentic leadership is not trying to make everyone happy. It’s also not taking shortcuts or rule-breaking. That means that we are keeping our integrity in check.  We can’t build trust or lead authentically if we say one thing and do another. Authentic leadership is also not ego first and the team second. It’s not about you. Authentic leadership understands that we’re all in this together, doing the best that we can. And it’s really important then that we don’t break trust.

If we want to lead authentically, then we don’t play politics or gossip. When you gossip or say maybe something rude, bad, a criticism about someone, just someone on your team, or just someone you work with. That’s eroding trust. And it’s also telling people to watch out. This person might say one thing to your face and say something behind your back. So an important piece about authentic leadership is to lead consistently to make sure that you’re walking the walk.

Here’s a quote to consider about authentic leadership. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” And when we think about authentic leadership, it’s not necessarily about pleasing everyone, but it is about focusing on our team and trying to pull the most out, or the best parts, their strengths and talents. Some things that you want to consider— what things could I be doing right now that may be coming off as inauthentic, that could be breaking trust? Maybe you’re not consistent in your leadership style, or maybe you’re, you know, giving consequences to one person and not the other, for the same type of thing.

Maybe you’re not necessarily managing your emotions in a productive way for those to want to listen to you. So another definition of authentic leadership to keep in mind is that authentic leadership is built on a person’s character and is not a system that can be adopted or a method to be applied, authentic leaders at many different management styles and personality types. After all, we’re all different. And as the name implies, it’s not an act, nor can it be effectively imitated. The greatest strength that you have is being you. And according to Bill George- his characteristics of authentic leadership consist of five things: purpose and passion, values and behavior, heart and compassion, relationships and connectedness, and lastly— self-discipline and consistency. Bill George is considered one of the leading, or I would say, primary individuals that got us thinking and talking about authentic leadership.

Andy Skidmore’s 5-Part Model of Authentic Leadership

Another individual that is well-known in authentic leadership spaces is Andy Skidmore.  Andy talks about authentic leadership in five pieces. So there’s the vision. So that’s, are we working towards? Why do we want everyone to get there? How can I show them what we’re marching on towards? Then, there’s the service. What can we do for others? Authentic leadership is practicing servant-based leadership. It’s not saying, well, what can you do for me? It’s how can I help you? There’s also a high conviction of values. That’s point number three— we understand our values. We know exactly who we are. We also know that those that we interact with also have their values. And what we want to do is lean into our values and understand the values of those around us. We also want to create— this is number four— genuine relationships. And the final piece of authentic leadership—the more you know about yourself, the more self-awareness that you have, the better able you are to identify where you’re coming off as inauthentic. Or just figuring out ways that you could be more relational.

Maybe you have the mentality that says, well, this is work. I’m not supposed to be friends with everyone. Well, sure. We obviously understand boundaries. There are certain things that you can’t share with your team. But does it mean that you can’t be friends, be cordial, get to know them, know their wife’s name or their children’s name, or what they like to do? No! So as we’re going through this, I’m going to walk through Andy Skidmore’s recommendation of the five pieces [of authentic leadership]. And I’m just going to give you some tips on how you can work on the five things. But I want you to think about the best area for you to focus on to be more authentic with your team.

Start with Self-Awareness

The first area that we’re looking at is self-awareness. Self-awareness is understanding one’s own emotions, needs, and drives to relate with others successfully. So we can think about this as emotional intelligence, and there’s a benefit to understanding self-awareness. The more self-awareness we have, the better we’re going to be at problem-solving because we can understand our strengths and weaknesses. We know where we could maybe aid others in solving a problem and who we could go to to help us get there. So if you want to boost your self-awareness to lead more authentically with your team, one way is to, you know, use, or identify your strengths and weaknesses. And don’t try to make your weaknesses your strengths. Look at this as an opportunity to say; you know what? This may not be my strong suit, but I bet Michelle on my team, she could be the right person to solve this. And it is also understanding that you, as a leader, do not have to do it all.

Another important piece of self-awareness is that you’ve got to admit your mistakes. When you, as a leader, can share that, you’re perfect. You’re perfectly imperfect. And you’re a human being that makes mistakes. Then they have less stress because they know that it’s okay. We know that mistakes will happen at work. But we don’t want people to be so afraid of messing up that they become overworked, overly anxious, you know, and have too much stress that it’s creating more of what we don’t want to see.

So another way is to do emotional check-ins. One of my favorite things is to do the emotional breathalyzer, which is a check-in with yourself. Before you send an email, if you notice that you might be really frustrated or angry, this is an opportunity to check-in and say, do I really want to send this? Do an emotional check-in before you go into a meeting. Because, when you’re in that meeting, you’re face-to-face with your peers or with the people that leave you. And if you go in frustrated or annoyed, that absolutely will rub off on those you interact with. And again, it’s then going to be the behavior that others will more likely repeat on your team.

Now, other ways that you can boost your own self-awareness is through journaling. You know, jot down your thoughts, talk about your triggers, talk about your day. It doesn’t matter how, but start to form a genuine connection with yourself. And the last piece is to practice leading without judgment. Self-Awareness understands we’ll need to practice that, that we are perfectly imperfect, as is everyone else around us. It’s not our duty to judge them. We can be curious to understand how we can have a better connection with them.

Building Genuine Relationships

Now, the second piece of Andy Skidmore’s model is all about our relationships. And one to consider about relationships is that leaders are not just responsible for the revenue or the budget projections. Your success as a leader will be contingent on connecting with others. Your customers, employees, and suppliers are at the heart of every business, and creating positive relationships with them is key. And one of the great ways to create a positive relationship is by being real. You want to be approachable. You want to, you know, show that they can trust you. You also want to use that to build team morale. So tips on how to improve your relationships, get to know people, ask them questions. It doesn’t have to be complicated—, you know if you say, “how was your weekend?” And they say, “fine,” you can say,” Oh, what did you do?”

Ask open-ended questions to get to know more about them. Also, drop the image. People want to work for people that they see as human. They don’t want to work for that robot that might say exactly what they think they’re going to say because that’s what people want to hear. They want to see you as an individual. And if you want to build better relationships, start by assuming positive intent. Now I know it can get really, really easy— especially if we’re bogged down with work— to maybe get irritated or frustrated and then have a knee jerk reaction. When in actuality, if we just assume that those around us are doing the best they can and assume positive intent, we may not be as likely to fly off the handle. And we’re going to be more likely to have a better collaboration with them.

So, of course, with relationships too, then it requires us to practice vulnerability. Again, sharing our mistakes, sharing when we may be afraid or when  we might feel strong, and practicing being curious. And, of course, being a great listener. Now, this last piece for relationships is to embrace feedback. Now I would also encourage your employees to give you feedback, and they know that that can feel tough because we don’t necessarily want to hear it from them. But if we assume positive intent that they truly are giving us feedback to help us. Or to create a deeper connection and create a better team environment, let’s not take it personal and say, is there something in this feedback that could improve the group overall? Perfect.

Conviction of Values

The third piece of Andy Skidmore is all about our values. Values are a person’s principles or standards of behavior. It’s one’s judgment of what’s important in life. And if you want to get in touch with your values, a great thing you can do is go online. There are plenty of values assessments, but understand which ones are core to you. Now, for me, some of my core values are authenticity itself. I love to be able to express myself exactly as who I am. And I really dislike environments where I have to pretend that I’m someone that I’m not. That’s where I didn’t necessarily connect with some organizations that I’ve worked with because I felt like I had to put up a facade. I had to pretend that I was someone that I wasn’t. And that actually created more stress and anxiety for me. The important thing here is to check in with yourself and get familiar with your own values because when you understand your values, you can use them as your compass, as your foundational point to make decisions.

So, for example, if I know that authenticity is really important to me, then maybe I won’t put myself into positions where I have to show up or pretend that I’m someone I’m not. And the other piece with this is that the more we can make decisions that align with our own values, the happier we’ll be, the more confident we’ll be. And also, it makes it easier to make decisions. Whereas when we make decisions that might go against our values, we might find that we may be more upset or have more stress, or that we feel like we’re not doing the right thing.

And keep in mind too, with values—every single person has a unique set of values and that our values change. So check in with your team, have them do a values assessment. You can then understand that you might uncover some differences that could be causing conflict. One person may value having something done completely before taking the next action, and another person saying, well, you know, good enough is better than done. That could be an opportunity to have a conversation. The conflict is not actually about the two individuals so much as their values.

So, find that list of values, just go through a typical values list, circle your top 10, narrow it to five and rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. One meaning— I don’t align with this value or ten meaning—yeah, I’m in alignment with this value right now. And if you find that you’re out of alignment, then identify some actions you can take to align with where you need to be.

For example, say one of my values was my career, and I rated myself a two because I have felt like I haven’t been doing anything to drive it. Say I’ve just been kind of doing the minimum. This is an opportunity to say; maybe I need to take a class and have a conversation with my boss.

Serving Others

Now,  the fourth thing about authentic leadership from Andy Skidmore is all about service, and servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. So as a servant leader, you have a servant first mindset. You focus on the needs of others before considering your own needs. This is where we need to reduce our own egos. For those that may be familiar with our  Crestcom faculty members, Steve Farber wrote an excellent book. I would recommend everyone checking it out called Greater Than Yourself. And this is a mindset that our goal as leaders if we’re truly going to be a servant leader, our goal is to make everyone better than what we could even be.

It’s looking inside thinking about our skills, strengths, and how we can share them with someone else? So how can we practice service? Well, first and foremost, asking questions. How can I help? It is also leading with empathy. It’s showing people that, “Hey, I see you.”  And it’s practicing seeing things from their perspective. You can also incorporate service by doing your own skills analysis, asking yourself what skills you could share with people on your team, scheduling development time, or using those skills to match up via mentoring programs. You could pair up someone with a dominant skill in communication with someone whose dominant skill is analytics and maybe see how they can work together to share that knowledge. And, of course, practice that Greater Than Yourself mindset from Steve Farber.

A Vision for the Future

Now the last piece for authentic leadership is that we have to have a vision. We can know who we are. We can value our relationships. We can know our values. We can know so much! What we need to also know is where we’re leading our team. And vision is essentially the ability to see beyond the mess that may be in front of you to abstract away from it, clean it up, and see a hopefully better future that does not yet exist. And it’s important for us. If we want people to follow us, if we want them to work harder for us, they need to know what we’re working for. And they also want to know how they’re connected to that vision. Vision is defined as where the organization wants to go in the long-term. A vision is like creating the future in advance. You can use that vision to potentially develop different skills on your team or assign certain projects.

And it describes where you want to be as a team and as an organization. The great thing about vision is that if you are trying to lead your team more authentically, start by showing how they matter to your team, share the vision, and describe how they fit into accomplishing and achieving that vision. And also, understand that you, as well as everyone else, have different motivations. Try to uncover their motivations, purpose, what they’re excited about, what their career paths are, and then see how you can align that to the vision. If you know that someone wants to develop in a particular area and aligns with your vision, maybe you can delegate a project or ask them to attend a meeting to get more familiarity or exposure to that. And then that will connect them to the vision even more.

And if you want people to truly connect with it, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to show that you value the vision you’re going to do, whatever it takes to get there. And it’s got to be a priority. It’s not painting one vision, then going to another vision, then going to another vision. We’ve got to be consistent. This will help us in our strategic thinking. It will help us in our problem-solving. And, of course, in our decision-making and the last piece of the vision, you’ve got to have regular check-ins. A vision is great, but the mistake that some organizations can make is that they repeat it once and expect everyone to then assign themselves to that vision, to feel a part of it, and then work towards it. A vision is something that we want to talk about frequently.

We want to energize people and inspire them, and really grow enthusiasm around the vision. People can use that as motivation to do their job or work harder, overcome challenges or think differently, and make better decisions that can get you to that vision.

Thank you so much for tuning into this week’s minisode all about how you can become a more authentic leader. If you enjoyed this week’s minisode, don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite podcast and streaming service, and feel free to share with your friends. We would love to be able to help develop more leaders. So please share it with them. So then maybe they can gain some insights to make a greater impact. Thank you so much for tuning in- until next time.