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The Authentic Leader –  Practice Trust In Leadership And Everything Else

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What makes you the kind of leader people follow?

I often ask leaders at the start of a learning event “Who do you want to be?”, and  “How do you want to be seen?” Then we embark on a lengthy dialogue about what it means to be authentic and how you do that.

At some point in our life we have been disappointed by someone’s words or actions and our trust in them dims if not fades away. 

At some point in our life, we have disappointed others through our words or actions and the trust people had in us dims or fades away.

The two edges of the trust sword are sharp and can wield great rewards or devastating results. 

Trust is an essential component of authenticity because it forms the foundation upon which genuine connections and self-expression can flourish. When we trust others, we feel safe to reveal our true selves without fear of judgment or betrayal.

This openness allows us to be authentic, as we no longer need to hide behind masks or pretenses. Authenticity is about being true to oneself, and trust is the bridge that enables us to share our thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with others. It creates an environment where meaningful relationships can develop, and where our words and actions align with our beliefs and values. In essence, trust fosters an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding, allowing us to be our most authentic selves without reservations.

Practice using trust

Like a lot of things in life, there is a risk if we don’t know how to use something or do something correctly we can hurt ourselves and others. Everything we learn and want to be good or great at takes practice, in many cases lifelong practice. Building trust is a lifelong practice.

Frances Frei is a Professor of Technology and Operations Management at Harvard Business School. In her YouTube video, How to Build and Rebuild Trust, Frei does a brilliant job of identifying three crucial components that help build and rebuild trust. Those components are:

  • Authenticity
  • Logic
  • Empathy

Each component is an independent crucial leadership skill and when used together they create an environment where trust can grow and flourish both within yourself, with your peers, and with teams. 

I use Frei’s video in many leadership training to introduce the practice of trust and authenticity and what to focus on when it comes to their work. The dialogue around the three components always creates some interesting insights especially when it comes to being your authentic self.

The three components of trust

Keep in mind as you read through this article/lesson we each see the world around us differently because of our unique personal experiences. We will define each of the three trust components as they fit our personal belief system. This brings me to the point of acceptance of others as they see themselves. 

When I run trust workshops the first thing we do each person define what trust means to them. 

Here are some of their trust responses, notice how most of these fall into Frei’s three components of trust :

  • My opinions are respected
  • I am asked for my ideas and taken seriously
  • A trust is a person of their word
  • Patience and respectful
  • My leader has my back
  • People are accountable for their words
  • I have never heard them speak ill of others 
  • When I talk to leaders they listen to understand
  • They are authentic, they are who they are
  • They are always available to help
  • Transparent and honest communication
  • Demonstrates empathy

As you read the response you begin to get a sense that these responses are a result of someone’s actions that caused the loss of trust.

Logic component

logic is a set of rules and techniques for distinguishing good reasoning from bad. A popular statement we often hear is, “We do it this way because we have always done it this way.” Where is the logic and is the reasoning sound? When reviewing research we always look for validation, the data to support or refute an idea or concept. People will often look for validation in what you say. 

According to Frei, logic comes in two forms, the quality of your logic (validation) and your ability to communicate your logic. If your reasoning is clear and makes sense people are more likely to trust you.

Frei goes on to explain, the quality of our logic is up to us. The ability to communicate our logic is crucial. There are two different ways to communicate, tell a story or be direct. Both the story and direct speech have a place when communicating.

When I am facilitating learning I often start with stories to illustrate a point of the idea, like most of the learning articles I post. When I’m presenting to staff or leadership I always start with the point and then back it up with a clear rationale or a story to illustrate the point.

What is helpful is to know your audience and what they respond to best in each situation. You also need to have a clear understanding of who you are. I’m a storyteller by nature and I have to ask myself if is this a situation where I need to present the facts first or if is it a learning opportunity where I can use a story to make a point.

Empathy component

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. It’s putting yourself in someone else’s position and honestly understanding what they are feeling. If you tell someone you know how they feel and there is no reasoning behind your comment, people won’t believe you. It doesn’t mean you have to take on the emotion for yourself, it’s more like trying to honestly find a way to relate to the situation or condition. If it’s difficult for you to relate because you have never been in that position, say so, ask what that’s like, and listen with the intent to understand. That’s empathy.

We don’t often have the time that empathy requires

Frei tells us to Identify where, when, and to whom, you’re likely to offer your distraction. In other words what draws your attention away from others? The cell phone, emails, instant messaging, lack of active listening skills, multiple priorities that are consuming your mental space, or personal distractions. These are crucial moments when the distraction pulls you away from being in the same space with others. 

Being able to identify these crucial moments should trace closely to where, when, and to whom you are likely to withhold your empathy. Awareness is critical here, you need to catch yourself being distracted or your attention being drawn away and find a way to stop yourself. The cell phones in meetings example, the cell phone is the when, and people in the meeting are the whom. Put the cell phone away, and see the people in front of us. Actively listen to them and immerse ourselves in their perspectives. 

Authentic component

Authenticity can be the hardest component of the three. We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be authentic? For authenticity to happen we have to allow ourselves to be seen. Brené Brown defines being authentic this way, “Authenticity means having a keen awareness of who you are and what you stand for, and expressing yourself honestly and consistently to the world.” Authenticity is a collection of personal choices. 

In her TedTalk, psychologist Brené Brown explains how authenticity is an essential part of developing meaningful relationships. When people show up, with their vulnerabilities, it allows them to truly connect with and feel close to others, this helps to support empathy.

How much authenticity is too much? Fear of rejection often prevents people from expressing their authentic selves. They put on a “mask” and change their behavior to fit in or act in a way that others think they should. When you betray yourself to fit in, you wind up feeling isolated and alone. Feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem are the result when you are not true to yourself. 

You need to look inward and ask yourself, “What does it mean for me to be authentic?” Brené  identifies a few ways to be authentic: 

  • Speaking your opinions honestly in a healthy and professional way
  • Making decisions that align with your values and beliefs
  • Pursuing your passions
  • Listening to the inner voice guiding you forward
  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open-hearted
  • Setting boundaries and walking away from toxic situations

When you get clear on what matters to you, you begin to understand how to make decisions that align with your identity and core values. You begin to build a life that brings you meaning and joy. In doing so, you inspire those around you to do the same. Who do you want to be? How do you want to be seen? Character is the aggregate of behaviors and traits that form the individual nature of someone.

Exercise | Deliberate practice

Logic, empathy, and authenticity, according to Frances Frei, are the three components that help us to build and rebuild trust. There are also three crucial behaviors that develop a leader who people want to follow. 

Logic and empathy take daily self-awareness and practice. Authenticity on the other hand can be perplexing. Trying to figure out who you are can take some extra work. In your journal, write down these questions and answer them for yourself. Don’t answer them how you think other people want you to answer them, be honest and clear with yourself.

1. Take personal inventory – What are your core values? Ask yourself when you feel your most authentic self. In what situations can you feel yourself being authentic? Who are you around when you feel you’re most authentic? What work are you doing when you feel you’re most authentic? Asking yourself some direct questions can help you discover who you are when you are not compromising your core values. When you get clear on your values, you will find it easier to make decisions in line with your authentic self.

2. Be present – Being present with yourself, no matter what is going on around you, is essential to authenticity. If you are always distracted or reacting to external situations, you’re not aware of your state of being. When you find yourself wondering how you are being seen or what you should do next, focus inward. Reflect on your values. Berné suggests practicing taking a pause to breathe and checking in with yourself regularly throughout the day. This will strengthen your mindfulness and help you notice when you are being inauthentic. With awareness, you will find opportunities to express yourself more fully and take actions that feel more in line with the real you.

3. Build your social support system – If you want to live an authentic life, you’ll need to surround yourself with authentic people. That means intentionally giving your time and attention to people who not only are true to themselves but also support you in your journey. Take inventory of your personal and social circle from time to time and surround yourself with supportive people who lift you up. If you feel alone at work, find one other person to create your group, and others will follow. 

4. Look for daily actions that lead to authenticity – When you look at it, authenticity comes down to your day-to-day actions. Because it’s those seemingly small moments, the things you say, your decisions, your actions, that add up to who you are and how you are seen.

5. Take time to reflect – Use your journal to record the small actions or conversations where you feel you were your authentic self. Deliberately practicing the small actions will lead to the larger actions People will begin to see you as a trusted leader and respect what you have to say. 

Learning to be a trusted authentic leader is a lifelong exercise. You always need to be on guard against people and situations that will challenge who you are. Write out your values in your journal and keep them in mind every time you make a decision or are about to say something. Those few seconds of self-awareness can determine which side of the trust sword you are wielding.  

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.   

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