How to be a more 'authentic' IT leader

In today's digital workforce, it's not enough simply to manage. Workers are looking for authentic leadership.

By Sharon Florentine
Oct. 6, 2016

"I made the decision a long time ago that I was going to be who I am at home and at work, and not compromise on those values. I have four guiding principles: Be transparent, be accountable, use teamwork and be innovative. These not only help to direct me at work, but they're part of who I am as a person. That's authentic -- standing behind those tenets and committing to these ideas," Council says.

Of course, authentic leadership doesn't mean flawless leadership, Council says. It's more about not shying away from your authentic self and backing up your actions and decisions with those core values you hold. Doing so gives your people permission to be their authentic selves, too, she says.

"And don't get it confused with etiquette -- yes, you have to maintain decorum and courtesy and kindness. Being a jerk and then saying 'But I'm authentic' doesn't make you any less so. What it means, to me, is that you always know who you're going to get and my values don't vacillate depending on my audience. That's really important to getting your teams and your colleagues to stick with you when the tasks are hard," Council says.

Authentic leadership also means you'll necessarily lose some people who don't agree with your mission, your purpose or your values. And while that can be disappointing, it's can make sure your workforce is engaged, loyal, productive and committed for the long haul.

"Authenticity like this means people either will gravitate to you or it scares them because they themselves either aren't authentic, or they have a different set of values. And that's all part of the process. It helps you find out who's really on your team, and who doesn't necessarily have the character traits you thought they did. My husband and my chief of staff have both described me as 'relentless.' My style is like a tough baseball coach: I have a lot of energy, and I'm going to help you play your best game, no matter what. That also means I'm going to take the time to understand where your strengths and weaknesses are. I'm not going to push you to be a grand-slam hitter when I know you can only pitch," Council says.

Authentic leadership also means understanding and acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and being open to changing for the better to help the larger organization, says Matthew Gonnering, CEO at digital asset management solutions company Widen.

"There's been a sense in the past that leaders have all the answers, and they always know what to do. The first step toward a more authentic type of leadership is to admit that you don't know everything, and that means vulnerability -- which is really uncomfortable for some people. But it goes hand-in-hand with transparency and honesty, which, to me, are part of authenticity. Being vulnerable to your colleagues opens up opportunities for everyone to learn and grow, and to leverage their strengths in areas you might not have. That helps the entire organization be more authentic," Gonnering says.

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