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Authentic Leadership In the Era of Filters

Wall of sticky notes
Pictured: Wall of Sticky Notes of Truth in Common Experience Room during #LIAC20 (Picture by Breanna Higgins)

Leadership is hard.


But it becomes much more difficult when leadership is clouded by filters that we sometimes take for truth, realness, and authenticity. We like to think of leadership being almost like an Instagram post when we take a closer look at those who are leading: Sometimes there's a filter, sometimes there are blurred images, and sometimes it's a raw, unedited, #nofilter image.


We often use these filters to enhance image quality for our followers and our feed aesthetics, but how often are we doing that to ourselves? Take a quick second and think about it. When are you placing filters on yourself? During a meeting? An interview? Maybe even at work? 


We always have opportunities to add filters to ourselves whether it be on Instagram or during a time when being social didn't require distance. So what compels us to add these filters? There can be many reasons, but one thing we find over and over again is that authentic leadership is difficult to demonstrate when we don't reflect on who our authentic self is and when we're being truly authentic. We ask for people to be open and transparent with us, but the challenge comes when we are asked to do the same without knowing the context of what authentic leadership looks like.

Authentic leadership looks like:

  1. Becoming self-aware. 
  2. Practicing transparency.
  3. Being open, but leading with your values. 


Becoming Self-aware:

This process isn't as difficult as it sounds, and no, you don't need to take a Buzzfeed quiz that tells you what kind of bread you are to be your authentic self (although, I'm a gluten-free arepa, so that's something). But, to become self-aware and to achieve authentic leadership is knowing your weaknesses just as much as your strengths, and being comfortable with what you bring to the table. Often we focus on "knowing ourselves" by focusing on what we bring to the table. We forget that we each bring our strengths and challenges, and it's okay to not try to be all the things. This brings us to point two. 


Practicing Transparency: 

Communication is so complex that it often creates conflict, confusion, and chaos. However, communication can also serve as the bridge to transparency for you and your team. Practicing transparency takes courage because things need to get real for both parties. In the words of The Boondocks, "Real recognize real." That means being honest and genuine when it comes to communication with yourself and your team. When you don't agree, be willing to speak up and state it. When you don't know the answer, it's okay. But be sure to let your team know that you don't have all the answers, then do your best to find out. When you give feedback, explain not only what went well but also what went wrong or needs improvement. Someone once said that feedback is love, so show your team some love by being honest. 


Being Open, But Leading With Your Values. 

This takes time, self-work, and an open mind. We often know our strengths and weaknesses, but we may not have considered our core values. So, start with that and identify what your top values are and why you've chosen them. Don't know where to start? Say less. We can provide you those resources, but the work will be on you being able to lead with those values while being open to alternative approaches. Your values will guide you, but understand that authentic leadership doesn't mean to close off any other options that aren't aligned with your own. We practice authentic leadership by using our values to help us when it comes to decisions, and having integrity when our actions are in alignment with our values. 


Authentic leadership is a complex leadership approach but can be made simple by understanding that being who you are and expressing yourself as who you truly are will create more credibility and trust with others.