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Humility is typically considered to be the opposite of being prideful. While this contrast has been highlighted as a key characteristic of highly effective leaders (see Good to Great by Jim Collins), there is another aspect of humility that gives it its real power for a leader. That is authenticity; not being pretentious. Patrick Lencioni calls is “getting naked” and wrote a book by the same name.

The humble or authentic approach can be transformative for leaders in every walk of life. Many have convinced themselves that success in leadership comes when we have it all together, have all the answers and “never let them see you sweat.”

The truth is we are highly attractive and deemed worthy of following, when we are authentic. This is apparent when you own up to mistakes, ask questions and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Authenticity to those you are leading will create greater loyalty and is what folks are looking for in a world where the word “reality” has lost its meaning.

This element of a leader’s character isn’t a new concept and isn’t about DOING anything at all at first…. It starts with how you show up and honoring the greatness in that.

In “real life,” when someone is authentic, they are clearly comfortable in their own skin. This also applies in leadership.

Showing up that way to life and leadership is a place where there is excitement, enthusiasm, strength and passion. It’s a place where the true you is on display
It’s not a place where you are reacting to the leadership “shoulds”

  • “I should know the answer”
  • “I should communicate like my boss”
  • “I should be like ….”

Responding from a “should” and not from your authentic self takes energy and diminishes your authority as a leader.

People respond to and deeply appreciate authenticity. Your team will willingly follow and feel safe because there’s no question of a hidden agenda and it reduces stress and tension for you. It can difficult to live a divided life and be one way at home and flip the switch to someone else at work. When there’s not division in how we show up, both you and those who follow you will benefit from less stress.

In action, authenticity means being willing to take on whatever the team may need you to do even if what’s required might be perceived as beneath your title. Don’t hesitate to get dirty. When a difficult problem or situation arises, put your hands into the matter—not to meddle, but to help accomplish the goal. When a situation calls for “all hands on deck” your hands are included.

Authenticity in action also means coming clean when mistakes are made. As leaders, when we admit mistakes, we are implicitly giving those we serve the permission to make mistakes also. The opens up a whole world of creativity, innovation and calculated risk taking. These benefit everyone.

A humble (authentic) approach to leadership builds influence that stands the test of time and difficult circumstances and releases all kinds of commitment and loyalty from your people that can produce powerful results.

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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