Thoughts on Leadership: Guided by Authenticity

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday off with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy weekly executive team meeting and the monthly CEO Leadership Meeting. On Wednesday, I joined the HomeServices of America monthly corporate team gathering then traveled to Las Vegas to meet with Mark Stark, Gordon Miles and the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties leadership team.

If there’s one word that definitely does not describe the city of Las Vegas, it’s authenticity. This is a place for escape, where showstopping entertainment meets extraordinary dining experiences under the glitzy lights of Las Vegas Boulevard. But maybe when we’re confronted with such geographic charisma, we recognize the importance of authenticity even more.

What is authenticity? It’s a grounded sense of keeping things real. It’s candor, honesty and openness combined with everything you say and do to reflect exactly who you are. Authenticity is essential for leadership because when we’re authentic, we’re confident in ourselves. We can more easily combat the mental vulnerability associated with the challenges of being a leader.

Socrates famously said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

The phrase is a prerequisite for authenticity. If you don’t know who you are, how can you possibly show other people the truly authentic you?

Part of knowing who you are is knowing your capabilities, and your mental reactions to both the wins and the losses of leadership and life. This is not a one-time exercise; rather, it is a constant journey to discover who you are, and it is directly tied to the effectiveness, productivity, performance and output of your leadership.

Bill George, Harvard Business School professor and author of “True North” wrote in his book: “The truth is, no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else. There is no doubt you can learn from their experiences, but there is no way you can be successful trying to be like them.”

When you’re authentic, people trust you. When you imitate, people are skeptical that you mean what you say. George says the failure of leaders most often occurs when they aren’t quite sure who they are, when they haven’t developed a strong enough identity or sense of self to be authentic in their work and thus, empower their team to be the best they can be.

This type of authentic leadership also requires vulnerability. When you lose, when goals are not accomplished, you can get real about why and combat challenges with constructive solution-based strategies.

Another aspect of authentic leadership is integrity. What you say you do, you get done. (It’s related to accountability, but it’s the psychological glue that holds accountability together.)

How can authenticity be built up? By identifying your purpose. Why do you lead? Why are you in the role you’re currently in? What is the purpose of your work? Purpose-driven work leads to greater authenticity.

Steve Jobs once said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

There will always be societal and peer pressures pulling at your authenticity, but when you have purpose, when you have Jobs-like courage, when you have a strong sense of self, you can weather the winds of these pressure systems and continue to lead authentically. So, what’s the message? Last week, I wrote about Jessica Buchanan’s harrowing tale of her kidnapping by Somali bandits. The experience taught her that change happens, and you either let it happen or you control it. The same is true with your identity. Either you create the picture of who you are, or you let someone else sketch it for you. When you are authentic, you are the artist of your self-image. Of course, you are. Because being authentic, at its very essence, is simply being undeniably YOU.

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