The concept of “authentic leadership” has been around for a long time, but the interwebs suggests it came from a dude named Bill George when he published a book of the same name in 2003.
However – I’m taking the definition of authentic leadership as “how a leader can gain legitimacy and build trust through developing honest relationships with followers” – even though I guess calling anyone who listens to you a “follower” is a bit off.
Point remains – the relationship that we have, as a personal brand, with our community is important. And this theory works on the basis that we don’t exploit this.
As a listener of this poddy, I’m going to assume you have some kind of online presence for your business, where you are (potentially) the “face” of it.
And that’s how this podcast really came about — I started to question my own personal brand and how it had evolved over the years. I’d become so focused on being known for “sales” that I’d really left a lot of my formal training and experience behind.
It got me thinking recently, after feeling now super confident in what I do (but I do obviously get waves of doubt creeping back in), but now I feel right at home — because I’m doing what I set out to do: marketing.
I think that everyone has a bit of imposter syndrome, but when it’s all consuming, it can actually be an intuitive indicator that you’re not in the right place. That you’re not working in integrity with what you know and how you can truly support your customers and clients.
So this episode is all about that — about how our personal brands can exist in a way that is ethical, where we do lead with integrity; because the opposite isn’t scamming. I mean, in some cases. The opposite is things like:
- Making sales based solely on connection rather than solution (I like and connect with a lot of people online, doesn’t mean that what they offer is right for me)
- Hiding the truth about your experience and expertise OR making claims about yourself that aren’t entirely truthful
- Being the only source of truth for information and rejecting any other viewpoints
- Breaking promises to your audience or clients and customers OR making decisions without considering your own ethical guidelines
So I guess on one end of the spectrum, these could definitely be seen as forms of scam. But I’m going to assume that you, the listener, are not going that deep with any of these.
What “authentic leadership” brings to the table is a theory that the leader, authority, expert, personal brand – is self-aware (meaning you’re always reflecting), transparent (openly sharing your thoughts), considers alternative viewpoints (balancing our own beliefs with others, knowing we’re on the “true” or only authority), and stands in ethical decisions.
Now the word authentic is thrown around, and could mean MANY, many different things, but in “authentic leadership” — we are thinking about your own personal belief system and how that relates to the work your do and the audience you serve.
So let’s start with self-awareness, which I think is a tricky one for anyone to discuss. The thing with self-awareness is that we think we all have it.
If you’ve ever worked in an office, I bet you’ve made the claim that someone else you work with “isn’t self-aware” — it’s an easy phrase to throw out there and criticise someone for.
But it is the first thing we can personally consider as leaders online, without feeling like we have to be OR we already are the most self-aware.
Self-awareness is a learned skill; and in terms of “authentic leadership” it’s all about reflection. I believe this podcast is my biggest source of reflection – because I’m able to openly discuss my strengths, weaknesses & values. But if unlike me, you don’t want to be sharing any of that publicly, just writing it down, checking in every month or every quarter, talking about it with a business friend or a mentor, is going to make all the difference.
It’s important because by regularly assessing what you’re good at and what limits you, you’re able to avoid things like taking on clients that aren’t the right fit and doing work that you’re not qualified to do, or confident in.
This is a big one — recognising what we are really good at and enjoy — because otherwise your work is going to leave you unfulfilled and you’re not going to be giving the best result to client or customer.
Transparency, or relational transparency, is being open about your thoughts and your beliefs yet not doing it a way where you’re manipulating the end result. I guess in some ways, it’s a form of curated vulnerability, but transparency IS important to building an ethical personal brand, it includes being OPEN about
- Your thoughts, your motivations, your experience — if we look back to self-awareness, your strengths & your weaknesses
- As well as the claims that you make in your marketing — are they verifiable? If you were selling a course that promised your audience could “do it just like you did and quit their 9-5 job and earn $100k per year” would that evidence be there?
A survey by Accenture Strategy in 2018 found that 66% of consumers think that transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. It’s important to both your existing relationships with your client base and also the people that you’re attracting into your business.
As a personal brand, and if you’re someone who uses social media to be known in your industry — in the online business world — being honest trumps any kind of perfection.
We know that from the way that Instagram has shifted from being all about the perfect ‘gram, to the full picture of someone’s life or business. As buyers, it’s much more valuable to see that, then to see the perfect grid.
If you want to build a brand that is both self-aware and transparent, you ALSO need to consider that you’re not the only person who is knowledgable on a subject and by shutting down other voices, you’re doing yourself and your audience a disservice.
So I talk a lot about this; but feedback is really important. Constructive criticism, not name calling or shaming. The feedback that gives an alternative view and starts or continues discussion in a way that means your personal brand IS balanced.
It’s not all one way. Your community, take for example your IG community, they all feel welcome to discuss topics that you’re considered an expert in WITH you. Alternative views, differing opinions; it’s welcomed — but also, it’s part of the way that you make decisions. You don’t solely make decisions on just one point of view, that would kinda be dictator-y (I know that’s not a word), but as part of your brand building, you consider not just your own worldview.
And tying it all together is, of course, your values. Knowing what you will and won’t stand for is important; how you’ll treat others, how you’ll approach your work, the marketing messages you’ll send.
Your ethical foundations should become part of the marketing guidelines that you create. Go back to the last episode of 2020 and you’ll get a nice round-up of the 4 guidelines that you should consider and make your own.
Because your ethical foundations aren’t going to be the same as mine, and that’s okay, but you need a strong basis of how you’re going to operate with purpose and integrity — otherwise, how are you going to hold yourself accountable? How are you going to be self-aware?
Being an authentic leader is so closely related to your brand values. Just because you’re a personal brand doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a set of clear, actionable company values. It’s possibly even more of a priority.
So if you right now, have no set of guiding principles OR a set of brand values beyond the words “Authentic, Transparent, Honest” then it’s time to write those out or contract a strategist to help you find what those values and actions really are.