Authentic leadership is everywhere right now. As we enter another presidential campaign, every media outlet is suggesting that America wants an “authentic leader.” But what does that mean? Is it even possible to be authentic in this political climate?
Authenticity, as a concept, has roots in philosophy and originated to describe how the conscious self resolves the tension between one’s true inner being and the external values or pressures. In other words, can you “keep it real,” with the “it” referring to your inner personality and values and the “real” describing how your inner self is reflected in your actions. It is an ongoing challenge for everyone to find the congruence between who we are and what we do—aligning our values with our actions. But the process of living and leading authentically is one worth attempting. Although the journey to authenticity is ongoing and often difficult, small steps can start the process.
First: know yourself. Some of the best philosophers, authors, and scholars have suggested knowing oneself is a critical component to development. It continues to hold true that before you can be more effective with other people, you first need to be more effective with yourself. Taking the time to know your true and honest self is the initial step toward authentic leadership.
Second: walk your talk. Authenticity is about our actions reflecting our values and inner self. Leaders often talk about the traits and skills they want to see in others in their life. Instead of concentrating on finding the best person in life or in business, concentrate on being the best person.
Authenticity moves beyond cognitive and intellectual skills and calls awareness to skills such as expression, integrity, and personal presence. The road toward authenticity is a long one and has many obstacles on its path. However, authentic leadership is possible in any climate if those leaders are willing to focus inward before focusing forward.