Courageous authenticity for leaders

Courageous, authentic leaders are more effective.

One of the most important ways leaders can demonstrate integrity is to be be willing to take up issues that are complex, stressful and even risky. Sometimes this can be in large scale, highly visible challenges, but more commonly it is in the everyday meetings and workplace interactions. It is in these moments when leaders make the choice to openly discuss key issues that we see a level of strength and integrity that earns our trust and respect. Courageous authenticity is the willingness to surface issues that others are reluctant to talk about, and to do this with curiosity, rather than defensiveness or blame.It requires courage, not just because the topic itself may be sensitive but courageous leaders recognise that we may each bear some responsibility for how situations have transpired. They are willing to stay with the discomfort of this to achieve better results.It requires courage because those leaders also understand the commitment needed to work differently in the future. The ability to genuinely engage with others on issues that are tough and complex is a hallmark of courageous authenticity.

Our willingness to be courageously authentic is strongly correlated to our effectiveness as leaders.

Feel the fear and do it anyway, they say?

What holds us back?

Leaders with whom we work report being hesitant in these difficult workplace situations by the fear of making things worse, damaging relationships or simply not being ready to be challenged? However, we can be both clear and respectful.We can address issues courageously in meetings, manage conflicts authentically and provide complete and direct feedback to others, whilst at the same time building healthy, effective work relationships, deepening trust and connections with our peers.

Of course, the flip side of not addressing these situations can be a downward spiral of deteriorating relationships, reduced collaboration and ultimately a detrimental impact on performance and culture.

What does it take?

Leaders who are courageously authentic, who deal quickly, directly and honestly with difficult issues when needed and who take responsibility for their own part of relationship problems:

  • Are skilled.They can clearly articulate concerns in a way that is respectful and clear.
  • Are emotionally agile.They have the ability to self-regulate under intense pressure.
  • Are self-confident.They possess the self-confidence in their ability to hold themselves respectfully and communicate with mastery [i.e. belief and trust in one’s capability].

Building capabilities in these everyday workplace situations can increase our willingness to speak directly to the issues without the need to smooth over them.

What to do?

Like all change and development, it takes work. Drawing on the work of Dr. Sarah McKay, Oxford University-educated neuroscientist, we offer an approach that will essentially master anything.R.E.F.I.R.E. to rewire our brain:

Reason: Find your why? What is the behaviour you would like to develop and why is it important to you? Why will developing courageous authenticity make a difference for you?

Engage: And absorb yourself in learning the task, behaviour, habit. Get feedback from the best. Invest in learning contemporary approaches to communication, the power of language and the ability to frame difficult situations.

Feel: Find the sweet spot between boredom and fear. Find your flow. At slightly elevated levels of activation, your brain is in the optimal state to learn.

Imagine: Rehearse in your mind’s eye. Mental rehearsal activates the same brain regions that are activated when completing a skill. Musicians and athletes commonly use mental rehearsal or visualisation to help achieve mastery.

Repeat: Deliberate practice makes perfect, because of neuroplasticity. Practice (practice, and practice) the new skills, behaviours and mindset of courageous authenticity. Repeat the practice of the behaviours that develop high level interpersonal skills in giving authentic feedback and admitting mistakes until these become natural tendencies [e.g. prepare to deliver robust feedback to a peer or team member, rehearse your emotional regulation as much as the language and framing of the conversation].

Ego: Who are you becoming? The language you use to talk to yourself matters. Are you becoming a courageously authentic leader?Instead of focussing on distant goals, attend to your identity. Who you will become as you REFIRE?

Be the courageously authentic leader who seeks and provides the direct feedback. When others avoid bringing up important yet difficult issues, be the leader who steps forward.This also means acknowledging your own part of the problem and admitting when you have been wrong. Be prepared to disclose your own feelings as a result of what is happening in the moment. You may be the one who is able to articulate what is not being said.

These acts of leadership take courage and are done in service of helping you and your team progress.

Debra Sarre & Marianne Stacy

If you are ready to grow as a leader and develop your courageous authenticity, join us for our next Leadership Masterclass, Courageous Authenticity, 16 September 2021