Career DevelopmentSales Leadership
How to Be an Authentic Leader

Authenticity is a magnet. For leaders, for salespeople, for spouses and hell, for movie stars (am I wrong or do we all love the sweet ones like Sandra Bullock that seem so real?) 

We are literally drawn to authentic people – we connect to them more quickly, we are faster to trust them and more willing to follow them. So let’s talk about what it is, how we see it, and how we cultivate it.

My favorite definition of authenticity comes from Janet Louise Stephenson:

Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency, and integrity.

Integrity is the foundation here. When our motives are not rooted in doing good for others, we are compelled to project something opposite or inauthentic. When a leader genuinely wishes the best her employees, we see it in her actions, her communications, her daily interactions with those employees. There’s less need for showy speeches and glossy initiatives, and a lot more straight talk and humble 1:1 conversations. We don’t catch her spinning the truth, badmouthing other employees, or acting differently at work than at home.

I can feel integrity and authenticity from sales people who spend less time pitching and more time listening. The ones who don’t bad-mouth the competition or try and bully me into a sale make a lasting impression and I like them as people – making me 10x more likely to buy from them. 

Their integrity drives an internal honesty about their product’s pros and cons and their desire to help me solve a problem. Their authenticity helps them communicate this with me and helps me connect with them faster. 

Transparency is our willingness to let others see the real us. Not our “work persona,” or our BS social media perfection, but the real us. It means leading with the truth or the whole story and avoiding the spin. Sadly it’s so uncommon that people actually announce when they’re going to do it: 

“Let me just be really transparent.” 

“Let’s open the kimonos,” 

“Let me cut through the BS.”

Although I applaud that we do it, I hope for a day when it’s normal to be honest about our intentions rather than having to say, “Honestly?” before we answer. Has anyone EVER said “Nah..just make something up.”

A transparent leader will tell their team more of the company update than the newsletter provides. She shares how it impacts her, how she feels about it, and what her plans are. She is straight when giving bad news, and although she will always tow the company line, she doesn’t waste time putting lipstick on a pig. 

For example, let’s say the latest marketing campaign delivered half the leads than expected. She’s honest it failed, doesn’t blame or badmouth the department, takes action to communicate with them for solutions, and works with us to find new ways to meet quota. Much better than the leader who curses the “idiots” in that department and tells sales “Suck it up.” 

Transparency is her giving us all the facts and her opinions. 

Integrity is treating (and thinking) highly of the marketing team while also owning the situation and outcome. Transparency lets her integrity shine through. 

Transparency takes practice. It requires an ability to pull emotion out of a stressful situation, to lead with positive intent, and the willingness to let the “ugly” parts come through. 

Enter vulnerability.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we also have our shame. Shame is a debilitating cycle of harsh self-judgement that’s worse than any public ridicule. It starts as a weakness, an itty bitty mistake, or a playground joke. My six year old boys had already identified something that made them different and that they did NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT. That is shame. And it’s not easy to look at, least of all share.

But shame and fear are monsters under the bed. When we shine a light under there it disappears. If we aren’t vulnerable enough to admit it is there, look at it, and shine some light then our imagination takes off and the fear is crippling. That fear is real folks and it means we subconsciously build layers of defense between that thing we’re trying to hide and everyone else (including ourselves). 

It’s easy to spot this. Picture a defensive sales rep during coaching. An employee who’s uncomfortable sharing her work with others. There’s a resistance to vulnerability here. Look for this the rest of the day. You’ll be shocked.

Ready for the harder homework? Look for it in yourself. I recently talked about authenticity and self confidence at a conference and demonstrated my vulnerability and transparency by literally listing things that I suck at and fears that I have in front of the entire audience. It was scary as   but the end result was so freeing you wouldn’t believe it. 

I shared that I fear people will think I don’t belong on the stage or on the page talking about this stuff. They might think I’m a fraud or even worse think I have a high opinion of myself. And as I said it, not a single person pointed and laughed at me. (What!?) In fact, their faces barely changed. The huge monster under my bed was literally no big deal to them. I promise yours will be that way too.

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