e who knows others is wise: He who knows himself is enlightened.’ This statement by Lao- Tsu, philosopher and poet of ancient China, is a good opening point to begin this article. Knowing ‘who you really are’, or being authentic and holding true to yourself in the most difficult moments, is ground-zero of leadership credibility. It all starts here, like taking your grip on cricket bat or tennis racquet.
You must get the first step right to ensure your chances of success. To create the trusted connections, you need to lead with powerful influence. To do that, you must first pass in flying colours the authenticity test of your followers. Maybe it sounds so simple but it isn’t. It takes real courage. There are no shortcuts, no trick plays.
True authenticity isn’t about telling people what we think is wrong with them. It’s not about judging, blaming and shaming others under the banner of being an authentic person. Such declarations are actually an escape from authenticity — a defence against vulnerability.
Authenticity starts when you set the intention to be genuine. Then, there must be an awareness of what that looks and feels like, and a willingness to act in accordance with your genuine nature even when it feels vulnerable. When you live with this kind of self-awareness, decisions are easier because you are free to choose things that move you closer to your values. You are able to stand in the presence of your imperfections. You can also embrace your talents and abilities.
Authenticity may also require you to make unpopular decisions or to acknowledge aspects of yourself that you’d rather hide away, but in the end, it allows you to live a more open, honest and engaged life in business or in personal life.
Communicating honestly also means keeping your promises – if you give your word to someone, then treat it as an ironclad bond. Never make a promise that you can’t keep
Creating an authentic life
Here are 10 ways to get started: 1. Redefine your values. Living authentically means that you live according to the values and beliefs that you hold most dear and that the personal goals that you pursue emerge from these. Your first step is to identify your core values and then to commit to living and working according to them. You then need to set personal goals and career goals that align with these. Sometimes you might have to make an ethically challenging decision; this is when knowing your core values will help you do the right thing.
2. Identify the gap. Is there a gap between who you are now and the person you know you could be? For instance, do you put on a mask when you’re at work? Perhaps you’re more abrasive with your team than you’d like to be, because you think that’s how a leader gets things done. Maybe you adopt a flippant attitude because you don’t want others to think that you’re boring, because you take a serious attitude towards your job. Or, maybe you’re brimming with ideas that you never share, because you’re afraid that your team will shoot them down, and this leaves you feeling stifled and unhappy.
Try to identify these gaps by writing a list of words that describe the qualities of the person you know you can be and by thinking about how closely these reflect how you actually are.
Then, choose one word from this list that you want to start working on – for instance, perhaps you want to be more ‘open’. Use personal goal-setting techniques and resolve to work on this every day. It’s more realistic to set small goals and work on one trait at a time than it is to try to transform your entire life, all at once. 4. Live with integrity. It takes courage to develop and preserve integrity. Start by analysing the daily choices that you make. You will often intuitively know what the right and wrong choices are: your goal is to learn how to listen to that ‘small voice’ – that sense of unease – that tells you that something is wrong. Study each choice that you make and ask yourself which one will make you feel good about yourself the next day.
Living with integrity also means that you take responsibility for your actions, including your mistakes. Own up to the choices you make and work tirelessly to right any shortcomings.
5. Communicate honestly. Honest communication involves saying what you mean, while respecting the other person’s needs and feelings. This takes emotional intelligence and good communication skills. It also means not playing games: you speak your mind and don’t rely on cryptic hints or other tactics to get your point across.
Communicating honestly also means keeping your promises – if you give your word to someone, then treat it as an ironclad bond. Never make a promise that you can’t keep.
6. Don’t make assumptions. It’s easy to go through life making assumptions about others. Where judgment isn’t strictly necessary, try your best to suspend your judgments. Let others’ actions speak for themselves and try to take their words at face value. You might find that as you make an effort to be open-minded with others, they’ll extend the same courtesy to you.
7. Develop self-confidence. Authenticity requires strength of character, especially when others are pressuring you to act in a way that you know is wrong. This is why you should work on building your self-confidence. A strong sense of self and the assertiveness needed to stand your ground will help you get through challenging situations.
8. Manage your emotions. When you live authentically, you consider others’ needs and you do your best to treat them with courtesy and respect. In stressful situations, this means knowing how to control your emotions. This is an important part of living authentically, because it shows that you have inner strength and respect for those around you and it’s a skill worth developing since it will serve you well in all aspects of your life and career.
9. Trust your intuition. Often, we feel out of sync when we are acting inauthentic. Things just dont feel right. Pay attention to those hunches, physical sensations and impressions. They can be your instincts telling you that you are not being genuine. When you are on track and authentic, you’ll feel that too.
10. Create a daily practice. Create a daily practice of living authentically. Take care of your mind, body and spirit and nurture a loving relationship with yourself. Look to those who already live authentically and notice a pattern of traits they master. If you feel disconnected or unable to speak your truth, identify which traits you need to cultivate in your life and create an intention to become authentic. Do the necessary inner work to reconnect to your truth and your authenticity will radiate through you.
A highly successful corporate entrepreneur once told me: “while my business has blossomed during the last 10 years, I’m still learning how to live authentically even 20 years in business. That journey is ever-shifting as I learn more about myself.”
His message is clear. Who we are evolves and changes. This is a dynamic process and one we can keep moving into at deeper levels. Feel that, pay attention to that. This is less about a destination than a journey of going deeper to keep discovering and unfolding new pieces of ourselves as we go.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)