In my last post, I suggested that authenticity is arguably the most important issue in whether people will or will not follow another person. When you think about the fact that it is often considered a synonym of such words as credibility, sincerity, and integrity, it’s really no surprise. Our society craves authentic leadership.
One of the most important ways that you demonstrate authenticity is to speak with your own voice, or as some have put it, “Find your leader’s voice.”
Preschoolers love to play dress up in mom or dad’s clothes. It’s cute when a three year old tries to walk in daddy’s shoes, but we don’t take them seriously. Likewise, it’s easy to see when someone is “dressed up” in someone else’s leadership clothes. We can easily see that they are not speaking out of who they are—their own experiences, their own journey, their own crucible. Consequently, we don’t take them seriously, and we intuitively resist following their lead. After all, if they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to trust their own voice—why should we?
Psychologist James Dobson wrote about this phenomenon in the context of romantic relationships in his book, Love Must Be Tough. He pointed out that when a would-be lover sort of throws himself/herself at a person’s feet and begs to be loved, it tends to drive the person away. In a similar way, when a person tries too much to be like another leader, rather than being who he/she really is, it seems to communicate a message of desperation that almost begs people to follow. However, it doesn’t work. People see through it and are repulsed by, rather than attracted to that leader. They may comply, but they will not follow.
So how do you find your own “leader’s voice”?
I believe the most important part of this is to think for yourself. When I was in my twenties, a veteran leader in his sixties said to me, “Mike, there will never be a shortage of people who are willing to do your thinking for you, but never let them. Always think for yourself.” I have found that if you do not think for yourself, you cannot speak as yourself. To me, the key to being an authentic leader is to synthesize what you read in books and observe in other leaders, including your bosses, but to contribute to it by adding your own thinking and your own journey.
When you do this, you speak out of your own crucible, your own experience, and your own dark place that you have conquered. People can sense it; they respect it; and they respond to it.