Leaders must attend to one key growth question: How authentically am I showing up in the world and my organization?”     –Tom Gegax

How are you showing up in the world and your organization? When was the last time you paused to reflect on this question? For me, I tend to get overscheduled and am focused intently on getting work done, that I don’t often think about HOW I am getting it done. How am I interacting with my colleagues? Is it in an authentic way?

Am I communicating in a genuine, honest way with others? Are my messages congruent? Am I listening openly and valuing the feedback of others? Is my behavior aligned with my purpose and values?

When you think about it, most leaders don’t ever set out to be inauthentic, it just happens from lack of reflection or lack of purposeful practice. A resource that I’ve found helpful is Kevin Cashman’s: Leadership from the Inside Out  (1999). Written in a workbook style, meant to help you with reflective practice in your leadership journey, Cashman outlines what he’s observed as the five touchstones of authentic leadership:

  1. Know yourself authentically: Invest in becoming self aware. How well do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Even more important, what is your core purpose and the values that underlay that purpose? If you want to be more effective with others, you need to know yourself first.
  2. Listen authentically: As Stephen R. Covey succinctly put it: “Seek to understand first, then to be understood.” This is a tough one. How often do you really hear what another person is saying and feeling, without filtering it first with assessments, opinions, and judgments? Authentic listening can help you be open to purpose and learning from others and can create a platform for synergy and team effectiveness.
  3. Express authentically: This is more than just communicating honestly, it’s really about communicating from the heart in a way that demonstrates straight talk combined with concern for people. Cashman explains that it can be helpful to ask yourself these questions when communicating: Am I authentically expressing my requests? Am I authentically fulfilling my promises?
  4. Appreciate authentically: Cashman says that “as leaders, we do too much and appreciate too little.” Have you ever been appreciated too much? Most likely not! Look for what is going well and celebrate the good things with your team. Appreciation energizes people and makes people want to exceed their goals.
  5. Serve authentically: As Cashman points out, leadership is actually a continuum of service. We serve our organization. We serve our people. We serve our students. We serve our community. Ask yourself, how do you want to be of service? As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,  “Life’s most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others.’

When you look at these five touchstones, which ones come naturally to you? Which ones are more of a struggle? For me, appreciation comes easily, it’s something that was reinforced by my parents growing up. And I find myself acknowledging others contributions and giftings daily. But listening authentically is more challenging for me.

This month I’m going to commit to listening openly to others and tamping down that urge to formulate an immediate response. I’m hoping that it will improve how authentically I show up in the world.

What can you do this month to strengthen how authentically you show up in the world?

Anita Rios

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