One of the most impactful qualities of successful executives is often referred to as leadership presence. The irony is that it is also one of the least tangible. And it looks different from leader to leader because everyone brings their unique experiences and sense of self to their role. At the end of the day, we all want to feel even – like we gave something and experienced something of value and significance. It is genuinely exhausting for any of us to be anything other than real…yet we spend time discussing finding the authentic self with most of our coaching clients. So, when we discuss it as a new idea it makes me curious: “What do you think gets in the way of people being authentic?”
Master Certified Coach and Pyramid affiliate Tim Link has worked with many senior leaders and shared his observations in one of our recent coaching dialogue groups. Tim noted that “regardless of individual influences, I find that extraordinary leaders share two simple yet powerful practices that contribute to an effective and commanding presence. They are clear on their purpose and they act authentically.”
The most effective leaders have a clear sense of personal purpose and are able to find links between their personal and organizational purposes. This serves as their compass when tempted to deviate from the mission in order to please others, scrimp on quality or make a quick buck. They also accept that in the process of holding to their purpose, they will have to make tough choices that will be disappointing to some.
Authenticity is often discussed in coaching circles, though the term rarely comes up in the boardroom. And if it does come up, it is dismissed as soft, or too difficult to understand or monetize.
Tim offered up some interesting observations on authenticity. He noted that authenticity has two simple parts: staying true to who you are as you lead others, and knowing which parts of yourself to bring forth in order to best influence others. Environmental forces will test your ability to stay true to who you are.
An executive he once coached felt pressured to change his reflective and quiet style to match his company’s fast paced and competitive culture. Yet when he relaxed into his own natural style of leadership, others began to rely on him for his unique approach and often referred to him as the voice of reason. He was recently elevated from Director to Vice President largely because his style and presence was valued and needed in the executive suite.
Authenticity also involves encouraging others to follow you by playing up the parts of yourself they can most relate to and that meet the needs of the situation. In other words, you want to manage which face you put forward in a given group of people. This is not about acting in a fake way, but instead knowing about which parts of yourself serve you best and which to play down at any given time.
Another one of Tim’s clients, a COO, heard from his colleagues that the passion he expressed regarding the goals he was promoting led him to lose his objectivity in team discussions. As a result, his colleagues tuned him out when he tried to enlist them in supporting his goals. He learned how to harness the passion while maintaining the core of his message. This enabled him to deliver his message in a way that could be heard without compromising his own personal essence and his colleagues stopped tuning him out.
Acting with purpose and authenticity will enable you to cultivate a strong and commanding leadership presence. This will keep others invested in your mission and inspire them to be productive and engaged contributors.
Coaching challenge: Determine one big thing that gets in the way of your authenticity and take one action each day to change it until it is no longer taking any energy. Then tell others about what you are doing so they can support you in this endeavor. Light the spark and see if it catches fire!