5 Ways to Be a Confident and Authentic Leader
Imagine if we could redefine leadership to truly be more inclusive. To embrace different styles and definitions of success that allowed for everyone to show up as their most authentic selves and lead from that place. How would the leadership of our companies, governments and communities change if people - especially women - were enabled and encouraged to embrace the philosophy that who you are is how you lead and all leadership styles are welcomed and celebrated?
What if there were a new definition of leadership? What if the best leadership role models weren’t revered and rewarded on their levels of aggression and dominance, but on their empathy and vulnerability? What if self-interest changed to collaboration? What if love was the operating language of leadership instead of fear?
Welcome to modern leadership. Welcome to a new world of work, careers, empowerment and pathways for women.
A world where you can show up exactly as you are and be the confident and authentic leader you want to be. Here are 5 ways to become that leader:
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Your strengths, when used in the right way, can supercharge your ability to know yourself as a leader, and bring out the best in yourself and those you lead. When you’re using your strengths, you are wired for authenticity, and to thrive. It’s important to note here that your strengths aren’t just things you’re good at, they’re also things you enjoy doing, which take you into a flow state and leave you feeling energised. You might have particular skills that you’ve mastered, but if they aren’t enjoyable and they don’t impact your energy in a positive way, then chances are, they’re exactly that - skills not strengths.
Your strengths represent those patterns of how you think, feel and act that make you excited, energised, and engaged in your work and life. They are also the patterns of behaviour that lead you and those you lead to perform at their best. There’s been a significant amount of research over the past 30 years that shows how your strengths help with everything from increased happiness to less stress; more meaning; a sense of more life satisfaction and higher performance; to better bottom line outcomes for our businesses.
A strengths focus works – especially when it comes to being more authentic, building your confidence and enhancing your self-awareness and leadership capabilty. This doesn’t mean you forever ignore your weaknesses, but it does mean that you can flip your focus from that negativity bias in your brain that’s always seeking out issues, to a strengths focus where you train yourself to look for more of what’s working, and do more of what you like doing and are good at – and feel more like yourself in the process.
If you don’t know what your strengths are (research shows that two-thirds of people are unaware of their strengths), I’d encourage you to take the free VIA Character Strengths survey at viacharacter.org. It’s a robust and proven test that’s been taken by more than 25 million people, and once completed, it will rank your character strengths from one to twenty four.
EMBRACE YOUR FEMININE TRAITS
Truly conscious leaders have the capacity to call on positive feminine and masculine qualities regardless of their gender, and they are also aware of the negative aspects of each.
Perhaps no one stands out more in recent times than Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jacinda first hit the global spotlight for her leadership in response to the terrorist attack on two mosques that devastated New Zealand in 2019. And during the coronavirus pandemic, arguably the largest test of political leadership the world has ever witnessed, she became a beacon of light for what a new model of leadership truly looks like.
Her empathy, vulnerability, humility and compassion, coupled with directness, clear communication and decisive action demonstrated in brilliant ways what modern leadership, balancing feminine and masculine traits, looks like in the real world.
So why is this important for you as a woman?
Think about how you show up at work each day. No matter your role, reflect on your style, and which values and traits are at the forefront of your behaviours and actions.
Are you leading with feminine traits, masculine traits or a balance of both?
Does how you are showing up reflect who you truly are, or are you putting on a mask and wearing a cloak of armour to behave how you think you should and conforming to what an outdated model of successful leadership looks like?
And how do you get to the optimal mix of traits for your authentic style? As with any form of transformation, we start with self-awareness.
The feminine and masculine capacities of each of us – regardless of gender – can be experienced in a balanced state, or in a hypo/hyper state.
Feminine traits and energies include receptivity, adaptability, intuition, creativity, beauty, flow, nurturing, affection, sharing, patience, vulnerability, empathy, inclusion, openness, trust and harmony. When in balance, these traits are a gift. But when in their hyper feminine or immature state, these feminine qualities can manifest in undesirable ways such as being dependent, needy, unfocused, irrational, weak and manipulative.
Similarly, positive masculine attributes include freedom, direction, logic, reason, focus, integrity, structure, stability, passion, independence, strength, clarity, discipline, confidence, awareness, discernment, assertiveness, order and convergence. In their hyper state, masculine qualities can manifest as aggressive, cruel, mechanical, arrogant, insensitive, power hungry, or spiritually empty.
The work we are invited to do as women (and indeed for all genders especially our male peers) is to bring our attention to where we are in and out of balance with our traits, which traits are serving us or stopping us, and how we can cultivate the right mix of energies to support our growth, intentions and goals.
HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE
The way you choose to show up each and every day, regardless of the position you hold, impacts not only your life but also the lives of everyone you come into contact with.
This doesn’t mean that in order to be a good leader you have to have all the answers. Or even that you should pretend to. In fact, research suggests that great leaders do the opposite.
Dr. Brené Brown, one of the world’s leading researchers on authenticity, has found that one of the critical components for great leadership is the willingness to be vulnerable with others. Of course, vulnerability is far easier to read about, than it is to do. After all, vulnerability is the first thing we look for in others and generally the last thing we’re willing to show.
Showing up and genuinely being seen for all our worthiness can be tough. Being real takes courage. It also makes us more relatable and trustworthy. Being vulnerable means rather than needing to always be the expert, that we can ask questions when we don’t know something; instead of trying to do it all, that we can ask for help when we’re struggling; and when things go wrong, that we’re willing to ask for feedback, take accountability and learn from it.
When you allow yourself to be seen for who you really are, studies have found it’s easier to form close relationships at work, people may be more willing to share advice, and your team may begin to feel less hierarchical. Brown has also found that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.
As leaders, vulnerability requires us to own how we’re feeling, to be attuned to the emotional landscape of others, and to be willing to sit in the discomfort this can bring. It means accepting that uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure – the research definition of vulnerability - don’t need to be outrun or outsmarted. It means consistently choosing what is courageous over what’s comfortable.
REFRAME YOUR STORIES
A few interrelated things that dramatically impact our ability to be a confident and authentic leader are our negative self-talk, our self-limiting beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves. We have somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. When you really start to tune into them, it can be astonishing to notice just how many of those thoughts are negative stories about ourselves that we would be just horrified if anyone actually heard articulated. Yet we allow these stories to ramble around inside our heads, impacting everything we do. When we can start to tune in to our negative self-talk, understand where our self-limiting beliefs are coming from, really hear the story and learn to change it when it is not helpful, we can radically impact our confidence levels, and even change our lives.
The first step is to catch your stories. We all experience a stream of ‘automatic thoughts’ which much of the time, we are unaware of and may accept unquestioningly. Cognitive restructuring describes the process by which we can re-train the way we think – one traditional approach is that thoughts can be examined for bias or inaccuracy and then replaced with more balanced thoughts. Once you’ve become better at catching your stories, the next step in the confidence-building process is to challenge those stories. The way to do this is simply by asking the question, “Is that true?” The goal in challenging our stories is not to delude ourselves with untruths. It’s to find equally plausible explanations and to tune in to how each alternative causes us to think, feel, and act.
Once you’ve challenged the story by looking for equally plausible explanations and you’ve found an alternative story that has you feeling more confident and empowered, it’s time to take action. Based on your new and empowering story, what’s the next right step?
CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET
Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University has been researching mindsets for more than thirty years. And she has found that there are two types of mindset that direct whether we feel we can improve our abilities, or not, and direct how we show up in the world and lead: A fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that their most important personal characteristics like personality and intelligence are largely fixed and unchangeable. This leads to a constant need to prove and protect themselves, and constantly validate their sense of self.
People with a growth mindset believe that their basic qualities and abilities are things they can cultivate through persistence and effort. This leads not only to a passion for learning, growth and personal development, but also confidence and a resilient sense of self in the face of criticism, failure and adversity.
When you are in a growth mindset, you are focused on the experience, not the outcome. You know that you can try new things, go for new opportunities and expand your skill set, because you have the confidence that with effort, you will improve so you can give it a go. If you get negative feedback, you take it as learning and fodder for your personal development. And if you fail, you know that it's part of the learning that comes with moving up the mastery curve. Your belief is that success is just showing up, and you have the question ‘what can I learn here?’ constantly on your mind to fuel possibilities. Growth mindset underpins your confidence and helps to close the confidence gap by getting you from your thoughts, to action.
The world needs new leaders. Leaders who can show up authentically, be confident in their mission and embrace their feminine and masculine traits to create inclusive workplaces where everyone can thrive. By embracing these practices above, you will be able to step into this defining type of leadership for the benefit of all.
If you’re looking for more tools on how to be a confident and authentic leader, these are all topics we teach about in our holistic personal and professional development program, Women Rising. You can read more about it here.