The value of authentic leadership

Being a leader means being present and active. This requires mindfulness.

For those in management positions, how many of you would agree with the following statement: Leadership is acting? Whether you agree or not will ultimately say something about your leadership style.

Forbes cited this example in a story about authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is a style of managing others that emphasizes the importance of being "authentic" or "true" to who you are. This doesn't mean being soft or taking a lot of personality tests. According to Forbes, it means being self-aware and honest. It can even mean being candid and blunt. But above all, it means being aware of who you are as a person and being aware of who others are. It means speaking to someone as one person to another, instead of one role to another role.

This doesn't mean you have to throw away your ability to "act." It really depends on what acting means. A great leader can sit a roomful of people down, listen to them, respond to what they have to say, and then give a speech. He will look at everyone in the eyes, and pay attention to what they are doing. Is this acting? If you feel anxious on the inside about something, and if you need to conceal your anxiety about how the company is doing, then this may very well be a form of acting, although it is not acting in the sense of putting on a role. It really means having a certain mental dexterity, so that what you are thinking about one part of a company doesn't interfere with what is going on in another part of the company.

For another example, if you have issues with an employee, you don't want it to poison the entire meeting, so for the time being, you set those feelings aside and focus on what matters in a given place at a given time. It means acting appropriately to what the situation calls for. This is a very different way of acting – completely different from the connotation of "playing a part." In fact, this form of "acting" is a very high-functioning way of being yourself.

Examples of authentic leaders include Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi. Both of these people gave public speeches, and both were marvelous orators, but neither of them "acted." They simply knew how to behave appropriately in every situation.

Becoming an authentic leader through mindfulness
"But these are great men!" someone might say. "Not everyone can be like this."

While it is true that the above examples are extremely authentic, extremely great men, there are ways to gain some of the talents of great leaders. Learning from the best is one way of self-improvement.

What great leaders have in common is ultimately their mindfulness. They are always present. They are always aware – of themselves and everyone around them. When people know exactly what is happening on a deep level – when they have a clear grasp of a situation from every angle – it makes doing the right thing, the appropriate thing, so much easier. Instead of acting out a role, you will be acting in the sense of being active – truly alive in the moment

How does one become mindful? How does one become a great leader? In a study posted on Harvard Business Review, analysts studied what it took to gain "authenticity." The researchers found that often all it took was practice.

"All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a nonprofit volunteer," said Ann Fudge, chairwoman and CEO of Young & Rubicam, a marketing and communications company. "The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others."

In other words, practice makes perfect. Some people start with meditation, others with another practice. The first step is to look inward. Wild Mind, a Buddhist meditation site, suggests creating notes to stick on your computer screen at work, "Be mindful." Being mindful means stopping everything and just feeling where you are. It sounds esoteric, but it's really not. It means ending your habitual thoughts and "being in the moment." And when you are in the moment, you are active. And being "active," rather than merely playing the role of an active listener, is the best way to "act."

It might sound hokey, but it could very well be the first step down the long road to being a truly authentic leader.