13 Key Points on Being an Authentic Leader

Here are 13 points on the importance and practice of being Authentic as a Leader. You might consider these “Authenticity Rules.” And in today’s leadership culture, it’s true that “Authenticity does actually rule.”

Some best practices I’ve found helpful:

1. Be real in all mediums. Digital age makes it easy to be inauthentic. Although we are always “on,” ultimately we can create a fake persona behind a profile on Facebook or a twitter account. It’s easy to live a secondary life and feel like we are someone we aren’t. Have to be authentic across the board.

2. Constantly turn the rocks over in your life and in your leadership. Uncover the areas that need to be made clean. Big things are at stake. It’s exhausting to not be the real you. It’s easier and less work to be who you really are.

3. The more successful you become, the less accessible you are. It’s reality. More people clamor for time with you, but it’s not possible to be available to everyone. Be wise and discerning, but also open to helping where you can. As Andy Stanley says “do for one what you wish you could do for many.”

4. Learn to open up. You can impress people more easily from a distance, so many leaders keep others at arms length. For example, we often prefer digital interaction to life-on-life exchanges. This insulates us and prevents others from uncovering our weaknesses and flaws. But it also reduces our ability to influence others.

5. Ask great questions. Great leaders I know solve problems and create solutions through the questions they ask. Questions many times reflect your values, and give value and dignity to the person you’re asking the question of.

6. Invite direct reports to do a 360 degree review of you on a regular basis. It’s uncomfortable, but also helpful. As Rick Warren has said, “You can’t love people and influence them unless you are close to them. Up close means you can see my warts.”

7. Accept a better standard. The goal of every Christian is to become more like Christ, but often our standard becomes some “great” leader who we admire. When we exalt fellow influencers, we try to dress like them, talk like them, pray like them, tell jokes like them, and achieve like them, it’s dangerous. By emulating them we hope to someday become like them. This never works, and a painful side effect is that deep down we end up feeling like a cheap knock-off.

8. Be interested over interesting. Start with leaning into others and caring about them vs. only worrying about yourself.

9. Be accountable to those who know you best. Know your blind spots in your leadership. We all have areas of weakness. Know what they are and give your team, your family and your friends permission to call you on them. Are you comfortable enough in your leadership that those around you have the freedom to tell you the truth without repercussions?

10. Make more of those around you, and less about yourself. Make others the center of the story. Authentic leaders are servant leaders, and willing to be less in order for others to be more. Authentic leaders seek to serve and understand the power of putting others first. And great leaders attract great people to their team. Like attracts like.

11. Actively build a Support Network. Beware of CEO disease, the temptation to surround yourself with people who only tell you what you want to hear. Keep honest people in your life so that you can stay grounded in the reality of your experiences. Don’t ever think you’ve arrived. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re not a big deal. Seriously. I don’t care who you are. Humility is way more attractive than arrogance.

12. Give others permission. Allow your team, your friends, your family and your community to continually have permission for pushing more towards the true you. Asking questions, pushing for clarity, pushing back, disagreeing, confronting, bringing new and different ideas to the table, and ultimately the ability and the freedom to push and pull.

13. Give yourself permission to be who you are. Authenticity requires true honesty, self awareness and a selfless approach to leading. One of the challenges in organizations today is actually creating space for leaders to admit and share their challenges. We need to create community where you can talk about the things you are dealing with without getting arrows in the back. Be willing to share your struggles. Create and find environments where we can deal with things and be honest and real.

Do you have 3 key words to describe your Leadership style?

There are lots of tests, assessments, seminars, conferences, training centers, and workbooks available today that are supposed to help you accurately identify and determine your leadership style. Many of these are very helpful, and very accurate. I’ve taken lots of them.

But someone asked me the other day, “With only three words, describe your leadership style.” And with no hesitation, I immediately knew.

My answer: Hustle, Hungry, Humble.

Those three words have defined my leadership style for the last 20 years. I’ve seen this style manifested in all the different titles, roles, and leadership moments over the last several years.

In fact, those 3 words are so important to me, that my next leadership book is entitled H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle. Releases on September 22, in about 2 months!

Obviously there is no right answer to the question, but we all must be diligent in defining, refining and living out our leadership style. A phrase that would describe my leadership style over the years: “work hard and play hard.” Whatever we are doing, we give 110% and always want to deliver- an excellent result. Whether working on a brochure, programming, curriculum, or playing basketball or kickball at the office, the goal is to strive to be the best at everything we do. You must have tremendous passion for the work. Another phrase I think describes my style is “calm but intensely focused.” Especially in environments like producing an event where things can be chaotic and multiple decisions have to be made instantly.

I believe this naturally flows out of my leadership style of Humble, Hungry, Hustle. Secondarily, I think the honorable mention runner-up words would be Passion, Excellence, and Execution.

Try three words for yourself- it’s tough, but will help in identifying the areas of your leadership that matter the most, show up most often, and should be put into practice with the most focus and intentionality.

15 Ways NOT to Lead Well

It’s ultimately up to you to lead well. It’s your responsibility to be the best leader you can be.

We see lists all the time of what makes a great leader, but what are some of the other sides of the equation, in terms of not leading well?

How is your leadership dysfunctional? What stands out as areas to improve?

Here are a few key indicators of the kind of leadership and ultimately a leader that needs to reimagine, re-engage, and recommit. Look for these, and if they exist, be committed to change.

So here you go, examples of NOT LEADING well and consistent killers of momentum for leaders, their teams and organizations: 

1. Pointing fingers and blaming others. Blame is getting passed around like a bad virus. Trust is gone. Everyone is cordial but behind closed doors there is deep distrust, driven by fear and insecurity.

2. A focus on the wrong priorities. Not willing to confront the key areas, and a constant default to Sideways Energy. More energy in scheduling lunches than in bringing in new revenue. Spend more time on updating the employee handbook vs getting on the phone and finding new customers. More time on updating headshots on the website than working on the strategic plan for next year.

3. Bad decision making. Making decisions based on whoever pays you the most, whoever screams the loudest, and whoever requires the least amount of effort and pain. Everything starts to become about the lowest common denominator and the lowest barrier to entry.

4. Passing along the decision stick. Counting on someone else to make a decision, other than yourself. Putting things off so that someone else will have to fix them later. Kicking the can down the road as Maxwell says.

5. Allowing bureaucracy to be an excuse for getting nothing done. Here comes the “they” mentality. It becomes about “them” and “us.”

6. Personal entitlement has taken over. Putting your own personal goals ahead of the team, or the greater cause at play. In this case, the good of the organization takes a backseat to you keeping your office or role or title. Your default is “how will this affect me” instead of “how will this affect the organization.”

7. Arguing constantly, vs listening and looking to create collaboration and areas of common ground.

8. No one values each other and silos now exist everywhere. Staff meetings and leadership team meetings start getting cancelled on a regular basis. Lack of communication between key people and teams becomes normal. Cliques and gossip become rampant in the void of communication and trust.

9. Lack of empowerment. No one feels able to do anything about the situation.

10. Same old same ole. The work and environment is mundane. It’s boring. Energy is non existent.

11. There is no accountability. People on your team just feel like they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. Everything is last minute and late. Nothing goes out on time, or gets scheduled on time. No one knows where everyone is and can’t find anyone. This will drive your best team members crazy.

12. Not willing to confront the brutal facts. Loss of reality and not willing to confront what is really going on. The leader is living in hopa, hopa land and suffering from Reality Deprivation. A lack of self awareness is prevalent here as well.

13. Vision is gone. Lots of hype but very little true and authentic hope in the future. Lots of promises made but very few promises kept. The painting of a preferred future has turned into a hype machine that everyone sees through.

14. The buck stops here doesn’t exist. No one is ultimately responsible. The responsibility tree has been chopped and split up so many times you can’t really figure out who is driving what and who has responsibility for what.

15. Safe, secure and stable starts to drive the future instead of innovation, creativity, risk taking and courage. Holding on and control is the posture instead of giving, catch and release, generosity and big picture thinking. “Don’t rock the boat” is the inspiration, which quickly becomes uninspiring.

What other things have you seen being acted out that remind you of how NOT to LEAD?

Ten Good Questions for Leaders to Ask Themselves

1. What’s it like to be on the other side of me? Are others around me flourishing?

2. How can I improve?

3. Who currently has permission to call me out and say the hard things to me that I need to hear?

4. How do I respond in moments of crisis? Do I chew people out when something is not done right?

5. Am I truly self aware? Where/what are my blind spots in my leadership? Am I a secure confident leader?

6. Do I talk more than I listen?

7. What do I need to learn from my most recent failures?

8. How do I lead people way different than me?

9. Am I comfortable surrounding myself with people who are better at their jobs than I am?

10. Who else should I be learning from? Who is currently coaching or mentoring me?

BONUS: Who am I grooming/coaching to replace me in my current role?

We > Me

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As leaders, we naturally have a tendency to make it about “me.” In some ways, you deserve it.

As the leader, you’re probably putting in the most time, the most resources, the most energy, and risking way more than anyone else. You’re the one carrying the responsibility and the weight. You have the greatest to risk and the greatest amount to lose.

But, ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about the mission. It’s about the impact. It’s about a greater cause. And it’s about your team.

It’s not just you on your team. There’s a team. Besides you. Other incredibly important staff crucial to the success of you accomplishing your mission and vision as an organization.

So next time someone says “How have you all accomplished all of this?…” or “What do you plan to accomplish the rest of this year?….” or “Who is involved in making things happen within your organization?…” “Or talk about the keys to success for you?….” Or “Man you all are killing it. Congratulations on all the success.” Make sure you start your answer with “WE” or “US” or “OUR.”

Not “ME” or “I” or “MY.”

It’s easy for us to get comfortable with the notion that “I’m” the reason for the success, or because of “my” willingness to stay late, or that new business deal is because of “me.”

But even if it is, honor your team by choosing WE vs. ME, and US vs I.

You can do more together than on your own.

Seven Thoughts on Taking a Risk as a Leader

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Stepping out. Risking. Taking a chance. It’s what we do as leaders.

So why risk? Why do we as leaders step out and move into places of the “unknown” when we are in a comfortable niche and established as the dominant force?

Why change if things are going great for you?

Great question. So why do we risk and take courage as leaders? Had to think about my answer. Seven things stood out to me on the whole issue of taking a risk:

1. Entrepreneurs and Type A Leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and the “comfortable” niche. They can’t stand to sit still. Their DNA won’t allow it.

2. The power of Stewardship. Courageous leaders understand that what you are running or leading is temporary, and your responsibility is to steward it correctly because others are counting on you. If this requires changing or risking, then you need to step out and continue to push the envelope with what God has given you.

3. Adventure and the power of the pioneer. Many of us are wired to be pioneers. To go on an adventure. Pure and simple. The journey into the unknown actually beckons us. And excites us.

4. Due diligence suggests it’s actually time to move. Do your homework, research, talk to people, and take very seriously the idea that you are risking. It’s dumb to step out and change/take a risk if you haven’t properly prepared and surveyed the landscape. But once you’ve done your homework and prepared, then go for it. Many people stifle the actual desire to step out because they spent too much time on due diligence. Risking and stepping out can be calculated, planned and strategic.

5. The power of purpose and calling. If God has called you to something in a new season, then you have to be willing to chase after it. Because of the internal pull of God’s call. It’s a responsibility and an imperative.

6. The power of Influence. Leaders lead. And Leaders influence. Being at the head of the pack means you many times end up in the unknown. Where there’s no handbook, no guide, no roadmap. But being out in front is where leaders are comfortable, and out front is where leaders separate themselves from the rest.

7. The power of Change. Healthy things change. Change creates health, and health creates growth, and growth creates fruit. Without change it’s difficult to actually create continual health in an individual, or an organization. Change is good.