The Residue of Authenticity

In my coaching, training, and consulting roles, I’ve been increasingly aware that I’m talking more about authenticy in leadership. At times, much of my conversation with clients is to help them become aware of the unintended consequences of their words and actions. What needs to be stripped away is the leader’s unconcious layer or protective coating which comes from fear of inadequacy, fear of disagreement or confrontation, or the dreaded fear of loss of control.

Recently, I came across something from American poet Maya Angelou that cuts to the heart of what I’ve been hoping to convey:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For those in organizational leadership positions and for those whose work involves inviting others to make personal gifts to support your organization, Angelou’s message is simple and powerful. If your personal interaction is such that it makes people feel whole and valued, then you are leaving in your wake a person who may to do likewise. This type of interaction is not about manipulation or the masterful execution of strategy. Rather, it means caring enough about the spirit of the relationship that you will be candid and empathetic.

Think about that combination for a moment–candor and empathy. Candor involves freeing oneself from spin doctoring and simply speaking your mind. Empathy brings in the quality of seeking to understand and internalize another person’s perspective–how they feel. These qualities–candor and empathy–in thoughtful and disciplined combination, become a platform for solid leadership.

In our contemporary business world, these notions can seem “soft” or “touchy-feely.” Yet I submit that those who would offer that criticism are still so gripped by a view of leadership as singular heroics, singular greatness, and singular abilities. Rather, much of what will stand the test of time is the result of cooperation and collaboration, thereby requiring that each of us never forgets how we are making others feel. This is the residue of authentic leadership.

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