Measuring Authentic Leadership

I was asked recently what characteristics I look for in an Authentic Leader. Well that’s a big question and the answer would consume several blog posts. But perhaps the most important “characteristic” isn’t a characteristic at all. It also isn’t “in” the leader. 

If I want to know how authentic a leader is, and how effective they are, I don’t look at the leader. I look at the people they lead. I look to see if their followers are authentic as well. Are they committed to the leader? Are they engaged and consistently motivated? Are they accomplishing extraordinary things?

Most important, what percentage of them are moving beyond Authentic Followership to become leaders themselves?

The most common shortcoming of limited leaders is they fail to help their followers become leaders. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve seen people in leadership positions lose an opportunity for promotion. The opportunity was lost because they had not built even one of their followers into a leader capable of taking over their role. 

I frequently see leaders who move on, either to retire or move up into a different organization, and there is no one on their team prepared to step in and lead. It happens again and again. In every organization. Every single day. 

If you’re in a leadership position and you’re not working with your people to help them grow from follower to leader then you may possess certain characteristics of an Authentic Leader but you are not leading authentically. 

Authentic Leaders do not create more followers, they create more leaders. Leaders who grow more leaders leave behind a legacy that limited leaders can’t. 

If you’re trying to determine if someone is an Authentic Leader look at the people they lead. If they are transforming from follower to leader then it’s very likely the person leading them is a true Authentic Leader. If not then they are in all likelihood being led by a leader who is at least somewhat limited. 

Leaders who help followers become leaders have the potential to unleash explosive growth within their organization. They have the potential to help ordinary people achieve extraordinary accomplishments. Their leadership outlasts their time as a leader. 

When you see a leader like that you know you’re looking at an Authentic Leader. That‘s true even if you can’t see the obvious characteristics of Authentic Leadership.

Your Ticket In

In all likelihood you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at your job. That job most likely didn’t involve leadership responsibilities. 

The challenge for most new leaders is that what earned them a leadership position will almost certainly not help them lead. They may have managed their job exceptionally well. They may understand how the business works, they may even know how to generate revenue for their organization. 

But none of that has anything to do with leading. That’s managing. We manage stuff, we manage things, we may even attempt to manage time but we do not, we cannot, manage people. 

Every business or organization needs excellent management to survive. They need superior leadership to thrive. 

The first step to becoming a superior leader is to understand that the skill sets that make you a good manager will not make you a good leader. While a high IQ can make you an effective manager it requires a decent EQ to help you develop as a leader.

Leadership is about people and only people. If you don’t “get” people you won’t get leadership either. If you can’t demonstrate that you care for people then people won’t care to follow you. 

People cannot follow someone they do not trust. Authentic leaders work to earn the trust of the people they lead on a continuous basis. They know that to be trusted their words must match their actions. Authentic Leaders lead will truth and honesty even when it’s a little painful. 

New leaders who want to become experienced Authentic Leaders understand that they are responsible for their own development. They willingly accept whatever development opportunities come from their organizations but they don’t stop there. 

They invest their own time and often their own money to further develop themselves. They will attend classes, listen to podcasts and seek out coaches who can help them develop their leadership skills.

If you’re in a leadership position, particularly if you’re new to a leadership position, you should know that your management skills are merely your ticket into the leadership world. Being promoted into a leadership position does not make you a leader, it merely provides you with an opportunity to earn the right to lead. 

By the way, while holding a leadership position may make it a bit quicker to earn that right, you do not need a leadership position to lead. You just need to care for people and want to make a difference in their lives.

Authentic Leaders will tell you that leadership development never stops. The most effective leaders continue to learn and develop their own leadership skills. They know that “good enough” never is. 

If you’re new to leadership, or struggling in your current leadership role then the good news is that there is lots of help available to you. You only need to make the decision to develop yourself into the most effective leader possible. 

That’s part of leading yourself, which always comes before attempting to lead someone else. 

Characteristics of Great Followers – Part Two of Two

Most Great Leaders I’ve known were once great followers. Many still are from time to time. The skills and characteristics of great followers are in many respects similar to the characteristics you’ll see in Authentic Leaders. 

In our last post we discussed characteristics possessed by great followers. This post will address 4 additional characteristics vital for genuine Followership. 

Great followers are prepared when they request the time of their leader. They know the information they need and they know the questions they need to ask to discover that information. They anticipate the questions their leader may ask of them and they are prepared to answer them. They don’t merely bring problems to their leader, they also bring possible solutions…if they haven’t already taken the initiative to handle the problems themselves. 

People who follow well don’t say yes when the answer needs to be no. They know when to push back on the leader and when to back off. They share the unvarnished truth with their leader at all times. They aren’t afraid to point out the flaws in a leader’s thinking but they do it in a thoughtful and compassionate way. They will hold their leader accountable for the things they say and do. If that surprises you then you need to know that in the strongest organizations accountability is a two-way street. 

Great followers will be better tomorrow than they are today. They seize every opportunity to learn and train themselves for success. They don’t wait to be “forced” into training. They try new things and you’ll never hear “because we’ve always done it that way” from them. They know what works and why. They know what doesn’t work and why. Great followers know that the minute they stop learning they stop growing. Great followers are always open to trying something new.

You’ll know you’re dealing with a great follower when you see someone who is willing to invest in relationships with almost anyone. They realize the value in different viewpoints and are willing to work with the best idea even if it isn’t theirs. Similar to Authentic Leaders, great followers come from great people. 

Whether you choose to be a leader or a follower you still need to make a commitment to be the best leader or follower you can be. Whether you decide to lead or follow you still have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. 

We know leaders can make a difference but you need to know YOU can too, even as a follower. The only question is…will you?