12 Keys To Authentic Leadership: You Do Know When It’s Real

Below are 12 key messages that underlie my fundamental philosophy of leadership. Most of these messages aren’t mine. I’ve borrowed them from many of the great leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years:

  1. Leadership is about inspiring and engaging people to work toward a compelling vision – by seeing the gifts and potential of others more clearly than they see it in themselves and being able to communicate it in their own unique way. Martin Luther King never said, “I  have a strategic plan.”
  2. There are too many consultants and speakers telling organizations how to be leaders. Leadership is contextual. The best an outside consultant can do is help you decide what kind of leadership is needed in your organization to achieve your purpose and help you get there.
  3. Leadership is about presence, not position. Great leadership cannot be reduced to technique or title. Great leadership comes from the identity and the integrity of the leader. Leadership is the way you live your life. Your power as a leader comes from being an integrated and real human being. This makes every person in your organization a potential leader.
  4. You don’t get promoted to being a leader. You get promoted to being a boss but you don’t get promoted to being a leader. There’s a big difference between a boss and a leader. Holding a position of leadership is like having a driver’s license. Just because you have one doesn’t make you a good one.
  5. You aren’t a leader until someone decides that you are. You have to earn the right to be a be called a leader, and you aren’t one until you have earned it in the eyes of others. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
  6. As a leader –  whether it’s in the home, your community, or in your organization – you will continuously need to balance supports with demands. You don’t help people by pushing them when they need to be supported, nor do you help them by supporting them when they need to be pushed. You never get this balance perfect, but great leaders work at it – every day.
  7. Great leaders achieve organizational goals. Authentic leaders help you find your voice in the process. Authentic leaders align the interests, values, and goals of the organization with the interests, values, and goals of the employee. This is employee engagement at its finest, and it’s what attracts, retains, and inspires greatness. Authenticity is about finding your voice and inspiring others to find theirs. Authentic leaders earn their credibility by being authentic. You know when it’s real.
  8. Leadership is ultimately about service. Turn your organization chart upside down. Take care of your people so they can take care of the customer. Serving, however, is different than pleasing. Serving is about meeting people’s needs so they can get their job done. Pleasing is about meeting people’s wants. Serving breeds commitment. Pleasing breeds entitlement.
  9. Your best leadership program will be over a cup of coffee. You’ll never be able to lead by sitting at your computer. Make building trust your number one leadership priority and spend a large portion of your time connecting with the people you serve. Find out what matters to others and do all you can to meet their needs. Listen relentlessly.
  10. Leadership isn’t about you. It’s not about how great you are, how noble you are, or how profound you are. Leadership is about others and what you do to give credit to others. If you are going earn the credibility to influence others – long term – you better have a strong enough ego that you can leave it at the door. Credibility comes from giving credit, not taking it. People don’t remember what you said; they remember how you made them feel.
  11. Leadership is largely a matter of love. If you aren’t comfortable with the word love, call it caring, because leadership involves caring about people, not manipulating them. If you don’t care about people or about your work or about why you get out of bed in the morning, you might consider doing yourself and your organization a favor and get out of the position of leadership.
  12. If you want to improve your capacity to lead, put your focus on finding ways to enjoy leading more. While I’ve met a few incompetent leaders who actually enjoy leading, generally speaking, the best leaders I know enjoy what they do. Put your efforts in finding joy in your work as a leader, and you’ll be a better leader.

What is your leadership philosophy? Have you shared it lately with the people you serve and love?