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Real Leaders Don’t Fake it

In a recent study, researchers analyzed the organizational performance of 440 CEOs that were previously celebrated in prominent business magazines, dividing the group into two categories: those with an MBA and those without. After collecting seven years of data, they came to the conclusion that the performance of those with an MBA was worse than the group without that degree.

Does this mean that having an MBA is detrimental to your career? Of course not. All of these executives had recognition in the business community for a reason. But maybe these results do show that education alone is not the only key to becoming an effective leader. Maybe, in addition to numbers and spreadsheets, a leader must focus on how to connect with those around them. As we know from John C. Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and the Law of Buy-in, if a leader wants his team to buy-in to his organizational purpose and mission, the team must first buy-in to the leader. And that buy-in can only be achieved if the leader can get past the flow-charts and focus on something much more personal and powerful: how to be authentic as a person.

Authenticity defined

We talk about this with The Five Levels of Leadership. Level one is where leaders get by on the respect afforded their position and title alone. Many of the MBAs from the study above may find themselves with this mindset. Level two is all about permission: This is where employees follow a leader because they want to. And they will only want to do this if a leader invests in connecting and building strong relationships with their team.

When a leader is authentic, other people recognize that quality and are more open to making that connection. So, how can you be authentic? Start by taking off the mask that all of us wear sometimes. The mask that says: “everything is perfect and running normally.” It’s common for us to model ourselves after a perceived successful archetype, but this is a mistake. There’s actually nothing wrong with showing vulnerability in front of your team. Be transparent, share setbacks, challenges and failures, because that really opens the door for communication and understanding. It you want to hear the unvarnished truth from your team, then you need to offer it in return. This approach to connecting with those around you may not be perfect, but it is authentic.

Authenticity in action

Here’s a few other tips to establish and maintain your authenticity:

  • Don’t be afraid to work alongside your team. You should know your industry and business and never be afraid to get your hands dirty in the right circumstance. Working alongside your team builds trust and continues to develop your own knowledge and skills.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated. Encourage in public, while instructing and correcting in private. And make sure what you say always aligns with what you do.
  • Do not micromanage. Respect the chain of command and let your direct reports lead when it’s their job.
  • Always listen to your team. You need to be intentional in asking for and receiving ideas and be courageous in encouraging constructive feedback on your own performance.
  • When it’s your fault, admit it without hesitation. Authentic leadership takes responsibility for the actions of the team.
  • Be honest with and take care of yourself. Working to exhaustion does not lead to innovation and creative thinking. But if you adopt healthy self-care, your employees will model that behavior, and be more productive as a result.

Above all, remember that being authentic means being true to yourself and others, and making respect—not ego—the watchword of the day. If you follow that principle as your guide, you can discern what is the authentic response in any daily situation.