June 26, 2015

This BOG Update is brought to you by Rosanne Nelson, MBA, MA/OD, Director of Leadership Development at the ACC.

A Day at the Beach: Leading with Authenticity is Easier than you Think

As summer kicks off, the beaches will soon be descended upon in droves. Families with young children will be juggling diapers, sand pails and sunscreen while also trying to capture every moment for the chronicles of Instagram and Facebook. A few years ago, when our eldest was just a baby, we set out for a weekend at the beach. Simple enough, we thought.

To be certain we had everything we might need, we ”packed the entire house” for a two-day trip. Our supplies included a baby swing, a baby carrier, a bottle warmer, diapers for the water, diapers for the day, diapers for the night and backup diapers in case all of the other diapers mysteriously went missing. We overcomplicated a simple day at the beach; we just didn’t know it then. 

Once we hit the road, I made the promised call to the children’s grandmother to let her know we were on our way. I was quickly surprised by what I heard next. “Must you make this so complicated? It’s just a couple days at the beach, not a trip to Mars!”

It was one of those statements that changed nothing and everything in a split second.

Working with leaders from varied industries and backgrounds at all stages of their careers, I remain intrigued by the hoops many will jump through to lead effectively. And, when I dig a little deeper, I find they are often “packing up the house” to ensure they have every possible tool in their toolkit to be prepared for every possible moment.

Some go through extensive coaching efforts to learn the different styles of leadership; others pride themselves in reading every best-selling leadership book from Peter Drucker to Sheryl Sandberg; just as many attempt to reinvent their leadership style at each turn. While understandable in the moment, over-complicating one’s natural leadership style becomes exhausting over time, both for the leader, and those being led. Thus, the notion of leading authentically is one that I find compelling to address. 

Leading authentically is not necessarily a new style of leadership, but it has come to the forefront in recent years due to its simplicity. With each new leadership style that once became the next big thing, organizations were following suit and executives and staff were growing frustrated. Soon, the discovery of leading in a more organic fashion became less complicated and more appealing. 

Leading with authenticity simply reflects following your values and modeling the aligned behavior. At times misconstrued, leading authentically does not equate to a highly personal, full-disclosure style of leadership.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “Being authentic doesn’t mean that you can be held up to the light and people can see right through you” (HBR, 2015). Authenticity is simply a values-based approach to leadership. In other words, is your leadership philosophy aligned with your personal values? Does it feel natural and authentic, or does it feel overly-complicated like an extraordinarily packed minivan on the way to the beach?

The more complexity we construct around leadership tips and tricks, the less room you leave for agility and flexibility. And, given the nature of our rapidly shifting environment(s), the need for simplicity and authenticity has never been greater. Leading with your values, and adjusting your sails along the way, is a key component to one’s leadership effectiveness.

During last month’s column, I asked you to reflect upon the leaders that impacted you during your career, and to consider how you personally lead. This was an effort to encourage thought around your personal leadership philosophy. Typically, those leadership stories lead us to develop our own leadership vision. Authenticity is about aligning that vision to your values and keeping it simple.

For this month’s column on leadership, I encourage you to consider the following exercise: 

  1. See the attached spreadsheet. Take the time to complete and highlight your top 5 values. Review the difference between what you value most and how you are leading. Is there a significant variance? Is this a barrier to leading authentically? What are the implications?
  2. Be sure to review the 2nd spreadsheet tab upon completion, as it will provide a visualization of your “values-to-leadership” alignment.
  3. Utilize the PDF to capture your thoughts.

Once you review the data, ask yourself, are you leading with your values intact?

Surprising to many, it’s easier than one would assume. But, more than that, it’s powerful and sustainable. There is no need to “pack the house” to be an effective leader. Leading with authenticity is about keeping it simple and ensuring your values are in alignment with your actions.

And, as for this year’s family trip to the beach, we are keeping it simple too!