As I started immersing myself in the research, I realized that (like many desirable ways of being), authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is actually a collection of choices, choices that we make every day. It’s the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen. What emerged from the data as the most powerful elements of building authenticity is, that authenticity is a choice and a practice – having the courage to be vulnerable, and engaging with the world from a place of worthiness rather than a place of shame or “never enough.”
How easy or difficult is it to be yourself, your real self? Some leaders believe leadership is “showtime”, where you put on a mask to fit a particular situation. It’s not. Others sense whether or not you are authentic, and then decide whether or not they trust you.
In his book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, Bill George makes the following observations about authentic leaders:
“Others follow them because they know where they stand. They are consistent and self-disciplined. When their principles are tested, they refuse to compromise. Authentic leaders are dedicated to developing themselves because they know that becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.
…Authentic leaders genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money, or prestige for themselves. They are as guided by qualities of the heart, by passion and compassion, as they are by qualities of the mind.”
In the many years since George wrote his book, I believe authentic and conscious leadership have become confused. Authenticity is finding and being your real self. Consciousness is being aware of and managing your personality (instead of it managing you). If you want to be truly authentic, you must also be conscious.
Let’s use this grid to explore the interaction of authenticity and consciousness:
|Consciousness Low||Consciousness High|
|Authentic Low||Defensive Leader||The “Playing it Safe” Leader|
|Authentic High||Reactionary Leader||Level 5 Leader|
Authenticity is finding and being your real self. Consciousness is being aware of and managing your personality (instead of it managing you). Click To Tweet
A defensive leader entrenches himself in a small comfort zone. He hasn’t developed the capacity to search inside, and be honest with, himself. When confronted with a threat, he blames others or circumstances. He vigorously defends his position because his unmanaged ego demands that he be right.
I often hear the argument that “jerks” say everything on their mind and are authentic (I’m not naming names here, but politics is full of examples!). If you assume that their unexplored egos are the same as their real selves, then there is some truth in that statement. But, Defensive Leaders (sometimes jerks) are not conscious and have zero interest in self-exploration.
A reactionary leader also needs to stay in his comfort zone. He is aware of some of his personality patterns, and believes that they are his real self. He has not mastered self-regulation and reacts to any external stimuli. His undisciplined personality controls him.
The “plays it safe” leader avoids authenticity. Instead, he focuses on fitting in, because he has not developed enough conviction and strength to go against the crowd. He makes a conscious choice to wear a mask.
Good-to-great transformations don’t happen without Level 5 leaders at the helm. They just don’t. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great.
Jim Collins called the highest level of leaders “level 5 leaders”, possessing both personal humility and an iron-clad, professional will.
While Collins sees this combination as paradoxical, I don’t. It is a natural result of hard inner work and a high level of consciousness. Leading from a place of security and confidence, a level 5 leader’s ego doesn’t need fed, and he focuses on, and cares for, others. He welcomes opposing opinions. His strong personal will transcends his professional life, and he never compromises his personal values.
To be a level 5 leader, both authentic and conscious, you need to:
Goleman, defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions”. To be authentic and conscious, you must recognize personality patterns or triggers as they appear and know how to relax them.
After pausing and inquiring, decide how to behave and feel. Is your habitual pattern the best choice for this circumstance? Or, is another behavior more helpful now? What emotion supports you? Level 5 leaders recognize, own, and shift their emotions as needed.
Becoming an authentic and conscious leader is difficult and doesn’t happen overnight. You can do it, if, you are vulnerable and dedicate your life to self-exploration and self-growth. Why not start now? The revelatory journey will make you a wiser person and better leader.Becoming an authentic and conscious leader is difficult and doesn’t happen overnight. You can do it, if, you are vulnerable and dedicate your life to self-exploration and self-growth. Why not start now? Click To Tweet