Leadership isn't about having all the answers, and it isn't about always being in control. The best leaders are often those who can be authentic and open-minded enough to admit they don't know and can't do everything.
I recently experienced this firsthand while traveling to Delhi and Varanasi, India, the holy city on the Ganges, after decades of dreaming of going there. What I experienced was a colorful, intense, and spectacular feast for the senses, but one that taught me the importance of relinquishing control and embracing true authenticity.
What is authenticity?
Authenticity is being true to oneself and being honest with oneself and others. It is not pretending to be something or someone you are not. Authenticity is about self-acceptance and self-understanding, even if others don't agree. Authenticity requires courage and self-awareness. It requires an openness to self-exploration and an acknowledgment of weaknesses and strengths.
I had to be mindful of my health in Varanasi because of poor air quality (AQI at hazardous levels between 360 to 440 this time of the year). Sometimes I felt tempted to push myself, but I had to be honest about what I could handle and shorten my trip. This self-awareness and acceptance of limits was a powerful lesson for me.
Authenticity requires we accept our unique qualities and embrace them without fear of judgment or criticism from others. It is about being open and honest about our values, beliefs, and intentions, even when they differ from those around us.
The benefits of being an authentic leader
Authentic leaders have the ability to create an environment of trust and collaboration. People are more likely to follow an authentic leader because they know that their leader is honest and consistent with their values. This type of leader will also be more open to listening to feedback and willing to take advice from others.
When a leader is authentic, they're demonstrating vulnerability. They're not afraid to admit mistakes or constructively express their thoughts and feelings. This helps foster a healthy working environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things without fear of retribution. Additionally, being an authentic leader encourages creativity and innovation since it allows employees to freely express their ideas without worrying about criticism from their boss.
Authenticity also helps to boost morale and create an atmosphere of positivity. When a leader speaks honestly about their challenges, successes, and emotions, it gives employees a sense of support and understanding. It also allows them to better relate to their leaders and appreciate their hard work.
As for me, I certainly will have some stories to tell you about how to prepare for a trip to cities like the ones I visited.
Tips for being more authentic
1. Know Yourself: Taking the time to reflect on your values, strengths, and weaknesses can help you become more self-aware and authentic in your leadership.
2. Be Honest: Honesty is key for any leader, starting with being honest with yourself and others. Make sure to stay true to your word and practice integrity.
3. Don't Worry About Others' Opinions: Authentic leaders consider but don't worry about what other people think. They keep in mind their own goals and values.
4. Speak From Your Heart: Authentic leaders speak from the heart and communicate with passion and conviction.
5. Listen to Your Team: Being an authentic leader means listening to your team and welcoming their ideas and feedback.
6. Take Responsibility: Authentic leaders take responsibility for their actions and the actions of their team members.
7. Embrace Change: Authentic leaders embrace change, use it to their advantage, and motivate their team to do the same.
8. Lead By Example: Authentic leaders lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to the cause and dedication to the team's success.
Traveling to Varanasi, India, was a great opportunity to grow. It allowed me to step out of my comfort zone (I'm a sucker for risk and adventure) and experience something new. It was colorful and intense, the people were the most wonderful, and the ceremonies on the Ganges left an imprint on me, but it also showed me the importance of living in the moment and being true to yourself. It taught me that being authentic and letting go of control can bring great personal growth.
Being an authentic leader results in greater respect, higher engagement levels, improved performance, and stronger employee loyalty. It can also lead to long-term business success as people are more likely to trust a genuine and transparent leader.
How about you? In what areas of your work and life can you be more authentic? And what would it mean for you to show up authentically?