Have you ever sat and thought about you? Can you answer questions like: What makes you you? What kind of person are you? Is who you are who you want to be? What are your strengths and weaknesses? These are questions that many of us never consider. We tend to live our lives day by day; getting caught up in the current of hurry. Unless we are intentional in our desire to grow and become more self aware, we will never look into the aforementioned questions. However, if we never have a good understanding of who we are, how are we to lead others to be their best selves? It is important to take intentional time and reflect on the hard questions about who we are. It is only through self understanding that we can be effective in understanding and leading others.
There is an interview question that I have had to answer multiple times throughout my life, and I have always had a hard time answering it, mainly because I didn’t know the answer. Have you ever been asked the question, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Personally, I hated this questions because I started playing mind games with myself. I didn’t want to sound horrible to the people I was interviewing with, but I also didn’t want to sound haughty and arrogant either. In reality, this question is asking if you know who you are. The interviewer wants to know how authentic you will be. We will never have a truthful answer to this question, unless we spend time reflecting on who we are.
It has taken me many years to finally understand how to answer that interview question. If I was asked that question today, I would say, “I am a person who tells it like it is. I do not like to blow smoke, but would rather be upfront and honest with my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. In other words, what you see is what you get. However, there are potential problems with this, as some people have a hard time with my blunt and real nature. I can tend to come off too strong, and people might get offended by my forthrightness. This is why it is important that I know and understand who I am talking to, and shape my conversation in a way that holds true to who I am, but honors and respects the person I am talking to, and honestly, this is not always easy for me.”
Authenticity is about boldly knowing who you are and living life in a way that people see the real you. Marcus Buckingham, author, speaker, and business consultant, once said, “Authenticity is your most precious commodity as a leader.” To borrow the words of Simon Sinek, “Authenticity is about imperfection. And authenticity is a very human quality. To be authentic is to be at peace with your imperfections.Great leaders are not the strongest; they are the ones who are honest about their weaknesses. Great leaders are not the smartest; they are the ones who admit how much they don’t know. Great leaders can’t do everything; they are the ones who look to others to help them. Great leaders don’t see themselves as great; they see themselves as human.”
So, let’s revisit the questions I asked in the beginning of this post. What makes you you? What kind of person are you? Is who you are who you want to be? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you answer these questions honestly? I would encourage you to get input from people who you trust and will be honest with you. Ask others what they think about you. Ask them what they see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses. I truly believe that one of the most important parts of being authentic is knowing your weaknesses and having enough humility to say, “I am still working on me.” There is no such thing as a perfect leader. We all make mistakes. It isn’t until we take time to reflect on who we are, understanding the areas we shine and the areas we struggle, that we can become effective leaders.
Brad Lomenick, author of H3 Leadership (A book I highly recommend), shares 13 key points for being authentic.
- Be real in all mediums.
- Constantly turn the rocks over in your life and in your leadership.
- The more successful you become, the less accessible you are.
- Learn to open up.
- Ask great questions.
- Invite direct reports to do a 360 degree review of you on a regular basis.
- Accept a better standard.
- Be interested over interesting.
- Be accountable to those who know you best.
- Make more of those around you, and less about yourself.
- Actively build a Support Network.
- Give others permission.
- Give yourself permission to be who you are.
The list I have provided only captures the bare understanding of each point. Brad goes into more detail on his website here if you want to find out more. I hope you find time to sit down and truly dig into your authenticity. Reflection is the heart and soul of growth. However, do not waste reflection by not applying what you learn.