From the heart . . .

 I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what it means to be an authentic leader.

If honest, I guess it’s something that’s always unconsciously there with me – and I’d like to think I’m known for being credible and trustworthy and genuine. So I’ve taken some time to truly reflect on what being an authentic leader means.

My starting point:

  • does being authentic as a leader mean you have to be someone you’re not?
  • are you only being authentic if you take everything you do and how you behave at home into the workplace?

I’m tempted to say no.

Some behaviours might not make it into the workplace. Two of mine that I choose to leave at the door are swearing, and drinking the odd glass of wine.  Call me a prude on the first; label me immediately as a lush on what I’ve revealed in the second … that’s your choice.  But I am comfortable with my choice.  They’re my bottom line and I know where I stand.

So to delve further, I made a couple of lists thinking about what I might do at home that I wouldn’t do at work.  After excluding the fairly obvious, eg dress code (there’s a line I draw personally about me wearing shorts in the office – it’s fine for others!) and presentation (so what if I don’t always wash my hair on a Sunday morning after a late-night on Saturday?), this is what I came up with.

Things I do at home that I don’t do at work

  • Do exactly what I want, where, when, and with who (yet within limitations imposed on me, eg I can’t go shopping in M&S at 04:00 in the morning, because they aren’t open; I have to pay my taxes)
  • Enjoy a glass of wine on occasion
  • Swear/curse (and to put this into perspective, see Emma Brockes’ most excellent article on the subject – The Guardian, 06 March 2014 – here, here! Though you still won’t convince me that it’s professional behaviour in the workplace.)
  • Share my innermost feelings (some things need to be private, and in any case, I might not have worked them out yet, so can’t express them anyway)

Things I do at home that I do at work

  • Be driven by my values – top = honesty
  • Learn – continuing my professional development is of huge importance to me
  • Plan
  • Enjoy others’ company
  • Try my best to say what’s on my mind
  • Set out my expectations
  • Aspire to be in areas/fields that are of interest to me
  • Confide in others
  • Have energy
  • Empathise
  • Be assertive
  • Be positive, optimistic, enthusiastic
  • Be extravert (really, I have no choice over this one!)
  • Be self-aware
  • Admit when I’m wrong (my husband will be surprised by this)
  • Apologise when I need to
  • Be humble
  • Leave my ego behind
  • Be driven by what I want to achieve and know how to get there
  • Be unafraid to show my emotions
  • Know where I want to go
  • Respect others
  • Listen

I’m lucky. 

I used to work for a public sector organisation whose values really were the glue that binds us, the way we do things around here.  They were launched to a fairly negative reaction from some quarters, but after a couple of years of embedding these values, everyone understood them – a common, shared language, a set of behaviours that were understood between us … and, most importantly, liked.  So much so that it wasn’t long before I heard people saying … I do hope that when our chief officer changes/retires, we won’t have a new set of values, and we can keep these.  Who’d ever have thought it?!  This gave me a most excellent grounding in both professionalism and integrity and authenticity – and I carry it with me wherever I go.

So, does it make me a fake if there are 4 things on my list that I choose to leave at the door when I step inside my office each day?  I’d like to think not.  Rather, I think it makes me professional … and also a little grown up.  And possibly a good leader.

After many years of leading and supporting others, I find it easy to draw a line between what I think is professional behaviour in the workplace and where I can relax a little outside of work.

And in doing so, I don’t feel in the slightest bit unreal.

I just understand that in different situations I might need to adopt some different behaviours.  Context is everything.

As a leader I need to be open, transparent, honest, and to model the behaviours that I want my team to display.  If I don’t, I’m not only being dishonest, but I’m failing as a manager to set the expectations of how we’re going to work around here.  And crucially, I’m not being the best leader I can be.

I’m curious.  What might your lists look like?

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