The 2 Essential Elements of an Authentic Leadership Style

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership" by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s the importance of an authentic leadership style? What makes a leader true to themselves in the workplace?

Being an authentic leader involves expressing your true thoughts and feelings, addressing problems honestly and directly with the people involved, and upholding your commitments. According to The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, these are all actions that improve team cohesion and reduce the likelihood of interpersonal conflict.

Discover how to sustain an authentic leadership style that everyone will look up to.

How to Be Authentic

Let’s dive deeper into two of the elements of an authentic leadership style: addressing problems honestly and directly with the people involved, and upholding your commitments.

Element #1: Address Issues Honestly and Directly

First, the authors note, being authentic requires you to address issues honestly and directly with the people involved. To do so, initiate a conversation with the other party. Bring up the issue, expressing that your intention is to preserve your good relationship, and ask when might be a good time to talk about the situation in detail.

(Shortform note: As well as deciding when to have your in-depth conversation, make a clear plan for where it’ll take place. Offer to meet with the person on neutral ground—for instance, in a company meeting room rather than your or their personal office—to avoid one party feeling more comfortable or powerful than the other. Your relationship is more likely to remain strong if you approach the conversation as equals.) 

When it’s time for your in-depth conversation, list the objective facts of what happened, and then explain your thoughts, feelings, and judgments about those facts. For example, you might say, “I noticed that while I was sharing my report, you were working on your laptop rather than listening to me. This made me feel angry and worried that you don’t see my work as valuable.”

(Shortform note: The authors of Crucial Conversations agree that in a difficult conversation, you should lead with the facts—not your interpretation of the facts. They note that facts are less controversial than opinions and thus less likely to create discord. Further, because facts are neutral observations of what happened—rather than potentially insulting judgments about what happened—they’re less likely to offend others and put them on the defensive.) 

To close, admit your role in creating the difficult situation and present your solution. For example, you might conclude by saying, “Perhaps I should’ve clarified what my expectations are for how people follow along with my presentations. Next time, I’ll do this before I start my presentation.”

(Shortform note: Others warn against claiming responsibility for a negative situation if you truly had no hand in causing it. While taking some blame may smooth things over and help everyone move on quickly, it may also unfairly damage your reputation—especially if the infraction was serious. It may be safer to instead focus solely on solutions: Help the other person make a plan for avoiding a similar infraction in the future.)

The authors warn to avoid gossiping—discussing an issue with people not involved, and talking about those involved in a pejorative way. This perpetuates the original issue and can create more conflict in the long run.

(Shortform note: According to other experts, gossiping may not be as negative as the authors suggest here—in fact, it can have some benefits. For example, sharing a piece of gossip about someone’s triumph or mistake gives the listener an example to either emulate or avoid, hopefully avoiding future problems. Gossip can also help new hires to learn the subtle rules and social norms of their new workplace, increasing the likelihood that they’ll thrive. Finally, gossiping about something (or someone) that’s frustrated us can soothe those strong emotions—something that may prevent future conflict.)

Element #2: Uphold Your Commitments

The authors explain that being authentic also requires you to uphold the commitments you make to others. They present three guidelines for doing so: 

1) When making a commitment, be clear about what each person will do and when they’ll do it—including yourself. Ensure that everyone involved will uphold their commitment. 

2) If you realize you can’t uphold your original commitment, tell the rest of the group immediately. If possible, adjust what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. 

3) Resolve past broken commitments by acknowledging your failure to the people involved and asking if there’s a way you can fix it. 

(Shortform note: Telling people that you have to break a previously-arranged commitment, or acknowledging and making up for a past broken commitment, can be nerve-wracking—especially if you’ve previously tried to ensure that everyone will keep to their word. To make this difficult conversation less stressful, provide a kind and straightforward explanation for why you’re unable to uphold your commitment. Don’t over-explain or over-apologize—keep things simple. Further, before offering to fix the situation, consider whether or not you actually have the bandwidth to do so—this may prevent you from getting roped into another commitment you can’t uphold.)

The 2 Essential Elements of an Authentic Leadership Style

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  • Why many leadership models are unsustainable in the long term
  • Why leaders must learn to understand and manage their emotions
  • The 15 commitments that leaders must uphold to run an effective organization

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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