Last updated: 5 February 2020
Finding and leading with your authentic leadership style can feel difficult (and even uncomfortable), especially if you’re new to a leadership position. Or, if as a child and young adult, you were never encouraged to share your opinion and be authentic yourself.
In this article, you’ll discover some practical tips that will help you get to know your own voice and then express it authentically in the workplace.
It’s a practical guide to being authentic and being yourself, even if it seems like a scary prospect!
First, let’s start with you.
1. Get Real About What Is Real For You!
To find your own style, you have to get to know yourself. Really effective leaders are those who are genuinely comfortable in their own style because they are familiar and at ease with it.
You have probably come across those leaders who seem to have a natural, authentic style that seems almost effortless?
Well, in most instances, it takes effort. It takes a great deal of self-awareness when it comes to your flaws and strengths, and then effort to change any sabotaging behaviors, and self-acceptance when it comes to the traits that aren’t such a big deal.
>> Editor’s Top Resource Pick: Interested in discovering more about self-sabotaging behaviors? One of our favorite books that tackles the topic in a very direct, no BS way is: Stop Doing That Sh*t.
Self-development is a buzzword at the moment, but for good reason. It is the backbone of finding, developing and bringing your own unique voice.
There are a myriad of self-development courses both online and as live workshops that will guide you through your development, whatever your preferred learning style and budget.
For example, as a self-development tool, the Enneagram is a free, potent resource. By answering a few simple questions about yourself, the Enneagram gives you a real insight into your personality type, your strengths, your challenges and everything in between.
Essentially self-development leads to self-empowerment. Knowing yourself means you can clearly see how you’re showing up in the world. The courage and insight to see how your thoughts and behaviors affect others, your happiness and your career.
This information might not always be pretty: everyone has a dark side.
But by acknowledging your dark side, you’re in a position to change what you don’t like, or what’s getting in your way and even ruining relationships or your success. This can be a painful journey, but no worthwhile transformation doesn’t involve some discomfort and struggle.
If you no longer want to stay small or stuck, growing pains are a necessary part of the process.
2. Keep Close to Your Goals
As a good leader you are accustomed to helping others identify and work towards their goals. You recognize the value and importance that goal setting has on your teams’ morale and resilience. Ultimately, it is an empowering tool for them to craft their own style and voice. The same goes for you.
Make sure you have a regular goal-setting session with yourself! Keep your goals fresh. Revisit them often, keep them on a notepad or post-it note on your desk. Write them down and be specific.
If you are more of a visual person, create a vision board. Refer to it often.
Goals can be closely interconnected with money because having money essentially means having the freedom to choose what you do, when and how you do it – which is a common goal. So clearing any blocks around money will help you get clear and free of any subconscious patterns that are holding you back.
There is a simple exercise to help you become aware and clear any money blocks: write down your “money story.”
Look back at your childhood and notice how things were for you – did you have a rich family but felt like the odd one out and so unworthy of having money or success?
Were you from a family who worked long hours and low paid work resulting in a belief that the only way to earn a crust is to slog your guts out?
Whatever your story, write it down.
No judgment, remember – there are no wrong answers. Just be aware of any money related blocks that might have become lodged in your subconscious and be grateful for the awareness.
When you shine the light of awareness on these patterns you will find they no longer play out in the same way. It leaves you free to be yourself and bring yourself to the table.
3. Be At the Table
Bringing yourself to the table, in other words asserting yourself in high-level meetings may not feel comfortable or natural. It takes practice and it needs to be done.
According to the authors of Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Paths to Power, this is especially true for female leaders, and those of ethnic or racial minorities and men with more reserved personalities.
And for leaders starting out, the boardroom can feel like an intimidating place where it is challenge to make your voice heard above the noise of all the others.
Consequently it is sometimes easy to be in the room but not at the table. In other words you show up to the meeting but don’t contribute, even though you know that you have value to add to the topic.
It’s time to back yourself, claim your space and raise your voice.
Develop meeting-based confidence by showing up to the meeting space early. Use this time to strengthen your network. Meet coworkers – build relationships and rapport outside the confines of the meeting itself. These pre-meeting convergences are known as the “meetings before the meetings”. They are informal yet vital in developing an active and receptive audience. It is where a lot of the real work happens. Think of it as essential groundwork.
4. Prepare to Get Prepared!
Prepare to speak informally as well as in a structured presentation.
You might have already heard of the Six P rule:
The Six P Rule: Proper Preparation Prevents a P*ss Poor Performance.
Do your homework and come to a meeting with an accurate sense of what is really on the table and how it might unfold. That will mean anticipating who will be attending, and the questions and information they are likely to ask and expect, for the time both before and during meetings.
Equip yourself for this.
When presenting, stick to the subject. When fielding responses, arm yourself with facts and figures that back up what you say.
5. Take A Risk
Put yourself out there, even if it scares you.
As a leader you are a facilitator. However, recognize that this is not where your role starts and ends. You have to say what you stand for, even if that feels risky.
When presenting your work or holding meetings be mindful of your tone, keep an even tone and be deliberate, even under duress. Keep sarcasm and curtness off the agenda. Keep cool and composed. Set your boundaries: allow space for discussion and also know that you are free to close the conversation when debated points can go no further. You can always reschedule after a time-out to reflect.
>>Related read on setting boundaries: The People Pleaser’s Guide To Saying “No!” – How To Set Boundaries At Work That Gain Respect… Without The Guilt!
In your response to others take a risk to raise a counterargument. Empower yourself to do this by framing your counter-points as questions. This opens up the productive flow of ideas around a topic rather than coming from a place of opposition.
Use openers such as, “What if we looked at it like this…” or “Have you thought of this…”
If you feel your temperature rising or things getting off-topic, take a breath and bring the conversation back. Pause. Take a composed moment to refocus and go from there. Space between sentences adds to their weight and gives people a chance to take in what you are saying.
Don’t be afraid to take your time and be spacious and genuine in your approach. If humor is your thing make a light joke.
The most important thing is to be yourself. Be you. That is your unique strength and your unique style.
6. Remember Yourself
A super helpful exercise to reconnect with yourself is to write down what you liked to do as a child. Be honest, and tap into all the things that fascinated you, captivated you and really caught your attention and note them down.
If you tried to sell your old stuff to your grandpa/sister/friend/anyone to make a quick dollar, pay attention to that.
If you loved figuring out the mechanics of how things work, look at that.
Maybe you were the kid who was always there with a helping hand or diplomatic solution to the fights in the playground, use that.
Whatever comes to mind put it down on paper – and don’t judge it.
Be open and fascinated by what is revealed. Remembering what lit you up when you were little will help you figure out where your genuine interests lie. By focusing on your interests you get a sense of what is meaningful to you. You get the opportunity to cultivate your personal sense of purpose.
7. Multi-Purpose Life!
Purpose does not need to be a single thing.
When the term “life purpose” gets used, it is easy to picture a singular mission in life. Which, let’s get real, is a whole lot of pressure. However, if you remember that your purpose in life is multiple, in other words you have several purposes, this relieves the pressure of having to define yourself with a singular mission!
Naturally you have multiple sources of purpose in your life, and I’d bet that not all of them are at work. Of course there will be those things that tantalize your interest more than others, so take the focus off work and take time to get to know yourself and develop your interests outside the workplace.
This might mean spending some more time doing a hobby, or taking up a hobby, doing some sport, or yoga, gardening, cooking or learning a language, joining a choir or book group. Whatever floats your boat! Invest time doing what you love, and invest in you.
Create multiple sources of meaning that give value to your life and work. You will be amazed at how many of the skills and learning that you gain in your non-work pursuits can be applied to your working situations.
Remember that purpose is not a thing that you find – it is something you build.
Another approach to cultivating purpose in the workplace is to make your work meaningful rather than taking meaning from it.
Have a proactive approach to finding things in your work that have meaning to you and expand upon them. For example, if you are in sales but have a natural orientation to teaching, make it your personal focus to expand the teaching aspects of your role. This might be something like educating your customers about different or new products. Bring purpose to your role by building your purpose into it.
8. Work To Your Strengths
It sounds simple, but owing your strengths can sometimes be easier said than done and might even present a big challenge.
The key to this is to get out of your own way with this exercise. Ask yourself whether you are unconsciously limiting yourself to appease other people.
Write down how you limit yourself in this way. For example, “I don’t share my expertise in meetings.”
Take this a step further and by each example write down your biggest fear, the thing you are trying to avoid by limiting yourself. Using the same example “I don’t share my expertise in meetings” – you might add “because I am afraid of being judged /made wrong / embarrassing a coworker.”
Again be gentle and non-judgmental with your responses – there are no wrong answers! The key to this exercise is to bring any limiting beliefs into awareness. By being aware of them they won’t end up running the show and limiting you when you really are in the boardroom.
9. Own it!
If you are super into this exercise you can expand this out further to really look at what is stopping you owing your strengths and success.
Take a fresh page and title it with this statement, “If all my success-goals came true, my secret fears are…” Now underneath make a list of your secret fears.
Don’t censor your responses, just write down the first thing that comes to mind as you go through them. Some examples could be, “I will end up lonely or isolated”, or “I will attract envy” – whatever comes up, write it down.
Take a breather, and then read through your list of secret fears with kindness for yourself.
Notice when you read your secret fears back that they might sound far-fetched or just downright bonkers. Know that all they are is limiting beliefs – they are not real, nor representative of what would really happen.
Once you have read through them all you can now add an extra statement: “I [your name] now release all limiting beliefs. I am free to own and enjoy all my strengths and success.”
And lastly, the notion of “natural born leadership” is largely a myth. Most people are not born or nurtured to have all the skills required for inspiring leadership. Cultivating these skills and doing the necessary work required to change or accept yourself is part of the process. But it’s possibly the most important work you’ll ever do, because it affects every aspect of your life.