Here is how to build your own style. 

If you’ve been following the American Presidential Election Campaigns for 2016, you know who Donald Trump is. You might also know him as a business tycoon, but for this article, we’ll focus on his identity as a presidential candidate. Take a moment to think about him. You’ll realize he has a very distinct, albeit controversial leadership style. If you’ve wondered what about his style is likeable, the answer is that he is perceived to be ‘real’- someone who speaks his mind and speaks the ‘truth’. Most leaders aren’t considered so. However, it is also the same reason why people don’t like him. Not everyone appreciates the unassessed sharing of his thoughts.

This quality of being authentic is much sought after in organizational leaders. It is a trending leadership research area. The challenge with this style, however, lies in its interpretation. When someone takes on the Donald Trump brand of authentic leadership and says, “I am what I am. It’s upto you to take it or leave it,” the leader creates more strife than solidarity. It rubs people the wrong way. That’s not what we want you to aim for!

What then is the ideal form of authenticity in leaders? Let’s explore three key factors.

  • It is personal. Being an authentic leader requires anchoring into what makes you who you are and where your motivators come from. Understand the links to your origin, and use this knowledge to convey your story. A potent example of this is when Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, launched water conservation efforts. She aimed at saving more water than the company consumed and pivoted the whole campaign around her life in India, where water was scarce when she was growing up. Sharing of this snippet helped her gain massive following worldwide. Similarly, the former Co-Chairman of Unilever, Niall FitzGerald, speaks often about his Irish heritage and the influence of his mother on both his moral and political worldviews.

A crucial thing to remember here is to remain curious about others as well. According to Geoffe and Jones (2005), “Pride in one’s roots, however, needs to be carefully handled. An organization whose CEO trumpets his heritage may well be intimidating or offensive to employees—and customers—who hail from elsewhere.”

  • As personal as authentic leadership is, it is also strategic. Though sharing of life-snippets is important, you don’t have to be an open book and share every little win or fail you’ve had. That might just undermine your credibility and confuse your followers. An effective way to approach this is to pick snippets which help you meet your objectives. Exactly like Indra Nooyi did. She didn’t speak about all of her life and experiences in India. Just one specific aspect, which in turn inspired others.
  • Lastly, this form of leadership is extremely fluid. It is all about responding to the context and relating to the different audiences you interact with. This might mean letting different aspects of your personality show at different times. For example, Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe went on to print a picture of him sitting in the Swiss mountains wearing climbing clothes. He wanted all the stakeholders of Nestle to know of a different aspect of him. Thus, if there are people who relate to your humorous side, then, by all means, express that to build trust with them. In other situations, if people appreciate the subdued and formal parts of you, be that!

In a nut shell, authentic leadership is unique to each person. We invite you to move beyond all traditional notions of leadership, and create your own brand, using some of the practices mentioned. What would that look like for you?

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