Press Pause. Becoming an Authentic Leader

Kirstie Kelly, 02 March 2017

Posted: Thursday 2 March 2017. Author: Kirstie Kelly.

Authentic leaders are great champions for D&I because they know how to lead a diverse workforce, they’re sensitive to the needs of others and they have the confidence to be themselves at work. But beware: being yourself at work is absolutely not just sticking with what’s comfortable and calling it authenticity! 

Authentic leaders as D&I champions

How does authenticity relate to diversity and inclusion? What springs to mind are the advocates of D&I programmes in our client companies. So often the sponsor or leader of a D&I programme has a personal story to tell. A human experience that has triggered a change in behaviour.

This might be their own story of discrimination or perhaps that of a friend of relative. It means that person can relate to D&I challenges and that others can relate to them. In some way, they have exposed their vulnerabilities and seen the world through a different lens.

Far from tarnishing the way they do business, it’s spurred them on to lead for the sake of others and to challenge convention. Their personal experience brings authenticity to the way they make decisions and communicate.

With clients as our inspiration, here are some techniques we can all put into practice to be more authentic in the way we lead:

Press pause: To understand authentic leadership, you must challenge your preconceptions which, in a business environment, we often find a way to justify. To put it into practice, you’ll likely need to re-programme your natural behaviour, changing your frame of reference. This sounds like heady stuff! But just stop. Press pause. 

Think about your learned behaviours and taught values, and how these have re-calibrated your ideas of what’s normal and acceptable. This means tapping into your subconscious mind and understanding how you’re making decisions based on your past experiences “last time I did this, this happened”. This is the starting point for self-awareness, an essential trait of authentic leadership.

Take situations and people at face-value: Authentic leaders think about their decision-making and actions long enough to base them on data and facts. They are more analytical and more consistent in the way they make judgments. To see this in action think about entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs commonly don’t have the experience of corporate leaders and they’re able to use it to their advantage, taking every situation at face-value, solving problems others wouldn’t have attempted.  

Be the best you can be: It’s not as easy as ‘being yourself at work’. Writing for Forbes, leadership development expert Kevin Kruse says authentic leaders are “self-aware and genuine” - absolutely - and “…focused on the long term, leading with their heart” also true but so are lots of leaders who are not authentic! Before you lead with your heart, make sure you have a level of self-awareness that means you can acknowledge what is appropriate and natural behaviour and that demonstrates the best of you.

Be honest with yourself: Authentic leaders have at some point acknowledged and exposed their vulnerabilities in order to become better leaders. This is apparent when we work with teams to measure the current and desired D&I outcomes in client businesses.

Capita’s Diversity Intelligence diagnostic enables leaders to gather sentiment about diversity and inclusion outcomes from a huge range of stakeholders. This insight is used to identify areas that will make high-impact change to improve D&I outcomes. We find the best leaders, that create the best outcomes, are those open to feedback and to constant, measurable, improvement.

Idealised Influence: Once you understand your own leadership style, and the sentiment of those you lead, where next?

The ENEI proposes a new leadership competency in its model for inclusive leadership, that of ‘Idealised Influence’ meaning leaders “provide an appealing vision that inspires others”.

Why would an inclusive, authentic, leader need to have this amongst their characteristics? Because authentic leaders inspire others to do the same, perpetuating a new leadership style that creates better D&I outcomes and better business outcomes.

Research from Deloitte finds “a strong connection between authentic leadership and individual feelings of inclusion” and that “authentic leadership behaviours...enhance employees’ organisational citizenship and organisation-based self-esteem” which is a boost to organisational culture - and therefore to the bottom line.

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About the author

Kirstie Kelly Diversity and inclusion practice lead

Kirstie Kelly

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