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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

Your Path to Authentic Leadership

Integrity is important, and so are values. As is being an authentic, vulnerable, very human leader—which is the only way you can connect with others, opening up and connecting at a very personal level. And that’s been my journey,” said Hubert Joly, former chair and CEO of Best Buy and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, during an interview with McKinsey on his recent book The Heart of Business.

Authentic leadership requires emotional intelligence, vulnerability and a willingness to trust others. If that sounds hard and a little scary, don’t worry. We’ll talk through some initial steps to get started on your authentic leadership journey because authentic leaders build stronger teams that get better results. For those of you who want to go deeper, I have some great resources for further reading.

Getting started

Authenticity starts with self-awareness, a key emotional intelligence capability. Knowing your values and motivations helps you operate from a place of integrity. When others, whether peers or employees, observe you consistently sticking to your values, you build a positive reputation as someone who can be trusted to do what is right. Leaders with high self-awareness know their strengths and limitations which helps them connect with others in meaningful ways.

When leaders are known for their integrity, it helps their peers and employees ask difficult questions and raise challenges. This can put the leader at the center of important, strategic conversations about culture, inclusivity and more. If you are just getting started on this path, it is important to find a balance between curiosity (internally and externally) and stewardship of your values and the issues that others raise. You will make mistakes on your authentic leadership journey and your growth from them will be determined by how you take accountability and re-establish trust with those who were affected by your misstep.

As an executive coach, I often work with leaders who are on the journey to authentic leadership. During a coaching engagement, we can also use assessment tools to gain insights and perspective on the leaders’ current strengths and opportunities for growth. I draw on my two decades of experience as a member of DEI Councils and extensive training in emotional intelligence and psychological safety to guide leaders through a process of self-discovery while also staying connected to my own values and authentic leadership path.

What to expect

I made a bold claim earlier in this article that authentic leadership leads to better results. Let me share a few reasons why that’s the case. Authentic leadership leads to an increase in psychological safety. That’s important because teams or organizational cultures with high levels of psychological safety are proven to be better at problem solving, innovation, inclusion and collaboration. Each of these leads to better organizational outcomes, individually, and together they can be transformative.

Authentic leadership also helps organizations make progress diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging goals. Authentic leaders are inclusive leaders. Their comfort with their values and purpose creates space for others to fully show up. Like psychologically safe teams, diverse teams are skilled at problem solving and incorporating wide ranging perspectives to create innovative solutions. Organizations that are making consistent progress on their DEIB goals are also more likely to attract and retain top talent which is incredibly important during times of high turnover.

Like any journey, the path to authentic leadership starts with a few steps. By connecting with your values early in the process, you will reap the benefits of better relationships with your team and peers, more creativity, and a more welcoming and inclusive work environment while you continue to refine your authentic leadership skills.

Resources to learn more

There is a wealth of business writing on leadership styles, generally, and authentic leadership, in particular.

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