Originally published Oct 24, 2019 by Irish Tech News 

Leadership is far more than the position we occupy on an organisation chart: we are all leaders if we choose to be, irrespective of whether we have people reporting into us or if we are just in charge of a project. As individuals we make leadership choices that affect those around us.

As with all things ‘leadership’ there are many perspectives on what it means to be authentic.  Often, people think that authenticity is synonymous with consistency: that one has to always hold steadfastly to a fixed view. Because that’s your view or your style. Instead, our view is that authenticity means aligning our actions with our values. Crucially this means that authenticity is not ONE way, there are lots of different ways that individuals can lead depending on the situation and the needs of those around you.

Authenticity is built when you share the real you with your team and colleagues. This means not pretending to be invincible and sharing your feelings as well as your thinking. Of course, there are limits to this. If you are the CEO, divisional leader or simply the leader of a small team there will be occasions when it is not appropriate to share something you know about the organisation or team’s future until the right time – new strategic directions, issues of reward for example.

It would also be inadvisable to share that you have significant doubt in your own abilities. Imagine the scene, ‘Thank you to the Board for promoting me to CEO. I feel like an imposter and I’m not sure what to do next.’ Feeling inspired? Unlikely.

However, the more you can share about your perspective in general, your opinions and the factors that affect your style and thinking, the more respect that will generate. The more you can share general normal doubts, ‘I’ve never done this before so I’m a little uncertain’, the more people will believe you are normal and the more they will trust you.

In the complex and ambiguous world we live in today it is not wise to be certain about everything – indeed, acknowledging this very uncertainty is wise. Also, sharing your doubts encourages others to contribute more. A very wise leadership scholar once said that “saying ‘I don’t know’ is a strong act of leadership”.

Of equal importance we argue, an authentic leader consistently builds trust and rapport because the ideas of genuineness and trustfulness are intrinsically linked.

We see rapport as being the sense of connection that you have with someone. Good rapport is like being ‘in sync’ with someone, where you are mutually interested in each other and often hold consistent emotions. This involves giving people your undivided attention – and if you cannot give that now, acknowledging it and doing so later.

It involves careful respect and interest in what they are saying – not in your view of what they are saying (I’ve heard all this before) but listening from their perspective (what is making them share this again). As a leader and as a coach, being in rapport with each person individually shows that you respect and recognise their very individuality.

If you’d like to experiment with this human side of leadership, consider for a moment the following:

Ask yourself how you demonstrate that you’re human? Consider the following:

  • ‘Without acting the fool, how do I encourage people to laugh and have fun at work?’
  • ‘When I make a mistake, how do I acknowledge it?’
  • ‘How do I make each member of my team feel special and cared for?’
  • ‘If someone asked my team / my peers / my boss whether they trust me, what’s my best guess about the response?’

This also raises the question of vulnerability. Depending on your personal beliefs about leadership, you may hold onto a view that leaders need to be strong and invincible. You may think that leaders never admit to making an error of judgement or showing an emotion. But what you do needs to be authentic to you and culturally appropriate. Remember that everyone is a boss watcher, so if you don’t share the ‘real you’, your team and peers are unlikely to share the real them.  And this sharing is vital.

For an authentic leader building trust and rapport is critical because without it people will hold back on sharing. Which means you will hear fewer good ideas and fewer innovative solutions. Another reason that having trust and rapport is so important is that it frees up people to share their thoughts and concerns without worrying that others will take advantage of their vulnerability.

In fact the opposite is the case. By sharing the human dimension of work people are able to believe that they can personally flourish and achieve greater success because they are confident they will receive the support and personal development that they need. They sense that the leader who builds rapport is there for them, to hear them and to guide them to their own routes to triumph.

We feel that organisations are beginning to forget that these skills – which draw heavily from another discipline, that of coaching – are also core to leadership. Coaching is a leadership skill. And, crucially, we are all leaders. Whether you are in a team (we all are) or leading one, building trust and rapport will generate the same advantages for you, your colleagues and your business. Don’t wait until you get promoted – if you start practicing now, that promotion will come more quickly and the transition upwards will be much easier.