What Does Authentic Leadership Require? Self-Awareness (and More)
Establishing and maintaining a well-developed awareness of yourself, and of how you adapt to external conditions, is critical to realizing your full potential as a leader. Functioning as an authentic leader requires a regular practice of tapping into your internal flow.
Structure Creates Conditions for Flow
Think of the way that water moves in a river. The structure of the riverbanks creates conditions for flow. The behavior of any system—including a human being—is directly related to the conditions in which it exists and the integration of internal and external factors that contribute to its growth.
Authentic leadership can only emerge in someone who creates the structure to practice and maintain self-awareness so as to develop clear perception and honest acknowledgment of how our thoughts, emotions, moods, values, beliefs, and desires color and drive our actions.
Just as riverbanks facilitate flow, mindfulness practice facilitates self-awareness. It provides the structure that enhances attentional stability, allowing us to catch nuance and exhibit greater response flexibility. Practicing actually updates the powerful brain machinery responsible for effective action. As with any worthwhile endeavor, it begins with intention and it takes mileage and repetition. By claiming space in your schedule for embodied contemplative practice each day, you’ll strengthen your innate ability to perceive with high-definition what is arising within; process undigested emotion; restore your attentional reservoir; organize and integrate new information; and reveal creative insight. What’s more, mindfulness practice creates conditions for compassion.
Practicing formally and often prepares you to respond with discernment rather than blind reactivity and to notice things in advance of acting on them. It trains you to pause, see clearly, listen, reflect, and then act. That split-second pause can make a world of difference.
Around the Next Bend
Change is a universal law. No matter how steady things may seem at any given time, impermanence rules. In river systems, dynamic change can show up in the form of a blowout. When a high intensity storm releases sheets of rain, it creates a powerful flood that unloads debris from a tributary into the main river and can seriously hinder the flow.
In the realm of business, blowouts take many forms. Making smart, grounded decisions amidst chaos requires a leader to be in wise, intimate relationship with their own inner workings. Whether it’s guiding a sweeping strategic maneuver, leading a dynamic team, participating in a critical conversation, or chewing on a complex idea, the quality of the outcome hinges upon the quality of focused attention given to the issue.
Systems by nature are complex and dynamic and today’s digital landscape seems to create a near-constant flood stage. There are always threats afoot in the form of unexpected conditions, and skillful, steady navigation is required. Overriding or shutting down in the face of challenge severely limits possibility.
Self-aware leaders show up with calm alertness and agility even in the face of challenging, complex, and ambiguous conditions. Especially when emotions are strong, they navigate with careful presence moment-by-moment, choosing to stay in connection. They know that no matter the conditions, no matter the input or outcome, it is wise to first recognize with clarity the situation as it is—as opposed to how they want or expect it to be.
From this place of seeing clearly what is, self-aware leaders seek understanding by asking good questions and locating—with open, kind curiosity—the best way to move forward. They are learners, which requires vulnerability. They are willing to say: I don’t actually know it all, and what I do know isn’t the whole picture. What am I missing? I’m open to learning from and with you. What is possible is far greater than merely what I want and what I can see.
When authentic leaders falter, they recognize it and repair. And then they get on with things—choosing rapid recovery over unproductive rumination.
Authentic leaders express their true feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and values with ease, and their behavior is in alignment with their personal values. They know growth happens at the edges, and they are vulnerable and humble—prioritizing learning as a way of being, approaching challenges to unearth insight and reveal the next iteration. With keen self-awareness, authentic leadership regularly inquires “What is called for now?” in order to gracefully navigate the ever-changing present moment.