One of the most vital qualities of a good leader is to be authentic. A leader who is honest, who is not playing games with people, who is sincere and who is compassionate towards others, is authentic.
As Forbes.com writer Kevin Kruse noted, “Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. …They are self-actualized individuals who are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers.”
We have all seen executives who act one way in public and another in private. We have seen some managers who always maintain a stiff upper lip, when in fact there are times, even in business, when it is appropriate to show emotions, to demonstrate vulnerability and to connect with others.
When employees see such authenticity in a leader, they are willing to listen to him or her, to follow their advice, to respect them. An authentic leader does not place him or herself above others, (s)he does not demonstrate a false sense of superiority; instead, (s)he is down-to-earth, open and affable. Look at Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Do you doubt how authentic they are?
“Authenticity has become the gold standard of leadership,” wrote Harvard Business School senior fellow Bill George on the Huffington Post.
George said he defined authentic leaders as those who demonstrate the following qualities:
- Understanding their purpose
- Practicing solid values
- Leading with the heart
- Establishing connected relationships
- Demonstrating self-discipline
George emphasizes that authentic leadership is built on character, not on style.
If you are a COO who is entering a new company, you may have been hired because the CEO admires your ability to master systems, and because you can make sure daily operations run in optimal conditions. But you also want to be recognized as an authentic leader. This means that you are the same person in public as in private, and you are the same person on social media as you are at the office.
Beware of following Twitter posts of people who are controversial, who are inflaming emotions about political matters, or who are condemning others or spreading gossip. If you are active on social media, make sure that the information you post is reliable, honest, and fair.
Becoming More Authentic
How do you become more authentic as a leader? George noted a few characteristics that if you do not already embody them, you should:
- Be real and genuine. There is no need to fake it.
- Constantly grow. Be willing to learn and to admit mistakes.
- Match behavior to context. Monitor how you are being perceived, and communicate effectively.
- Don’t try to be perfect.
- Be sensitive to the needs of others.
All of the above qualities mean that as a leader you will become more self-aware, and will know your strengths and acknowledge your limitations.
Here are other tips:
- Let your team in. You can offer personal information, just not too much. Let your team know who you are as a person, as a father, a husband.
- Remain consistent. Don’t keep changing the rules of the game. Keep the ship steady.
- Share goals. You can motivate your team when you share goals and celebrate their being reached.
- Empower your team. Give your team the information they need to succeed so that they will feel your support as a leader. They will respect you for it.
Do the Inner Work
If you are about to become a COO at a new company, not only will all eyes be on you during the first few weeks of your tenure, but what you say will carry far and wide. Make sure you are ready to take this big step. As George said, “If you want to be an authentic leader and have a meaningful life, you need to do the difficult inner work to develop yourself, have a strong moral compass based on your beliefs and values, and work on problems that matter to you.”
If you do that inner work throughout your career, not only will you fully develop as an authentic leader, but you will inspire others to follow your lead. We all want to work with people who are honest, who admit their mistakes, who share the credit and shoulder responsibility equitably. If you develop into this kind of leader, you will not only find that your employees are easy to manage, but discover that they possess the highest respect for you.
You will find that becoming an authentic COO is well worth it. In addition to being an authentic COO, here are 5 traits you should aim to possess as a Chief Operating Officer.