It is one of the words used when I ask people to describe a highly effective leader.
Yet when you ask them to define what the means, they often struggle.
Like I often do, as I started to write this, I went to the source – the dictionary. Here are the two relevant definitions for the word genuine, according to dictionary.com
1. possessing the claimed or attributed character, quality, or origin; not counterfeit; authentic; real
2. free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere:
These ideas are certainly worthy things for us to think about in the everyday work of leading. From the first definition comes a word that is almost overused in leadership today – authentic. The word in that definition that I like best is simpler – real.
Highly effective leaders are real.
And from the second definition, another simple word – sincere.
Highly effective leaders are sincere.
These are simple ideas, but not always understood in the practice of leadership. Unfortunately, some misguided thoughts can come from this starting point. The purpose of the rest of this article is to get past a vocabulary lesson and into practical matters for leaders, really answering what I already asked:
What does it mean to be a genuine leader?
Real. To be a real leader means to show up as who you are – to bring your past experiences, values and beliefs to your role and to live those each day. When people see you being who you are, they become interested. When they see you masquerading or trying to make yourself be something that you are not, they will lose faith and trust in you. And trying to do this is exhausting for you anyway.
Sincere. To be a sincere leader means to be pure of heart and spirit. To seek what is best for your team and the members of it. To put the needs of others first and to be aware of that choice. Who wouldn’t want to follow that person?
Those are some strong ideas, and I don’t know about you; while I can (and do) strive for those ideals, I know I fall short. Which means that being a genuine leader means some other things too. . .
Flawed. Since you are a human being doing a hard job of leading others, if you want to be real, you must recognize that you are flawed. The good news is that people want a real leader and they are willing to live with someone less than perfect. You know why? Because they are flawed too.
Intentional. If we want to be real and sincere, then we must always strive to be intentional; making decisions, asking questions, and making statements that are meant to reach good outcomes for the group, not just ourselves. When we are sincere and intentional, we will make better decisions more often, and our teams will likely give us a pass when it doesn’t go quite so well.
The Big But
The slippery slope of genuine, real and sincere is the idea that “I lead based on who I am, and that should be good enough.”
That is a very slippery slope indeed.
There is nothing in the ideas shared so far that say we can’t work to improve, grow and get better.
After all, leadership is one of the most complex skills we can learn; and if we genuinely want to do it well we must be willing to invest in ourselves to work more productively, make better decisions, communicate more clearly and lead more effectively.
Genuine leaders bring the best of who they are to their work and then intentionally work to improve their skills and approaches to become closer to what they are capable of – all in the service of leading others towards a desirable destination.
There is my answer to the question I posed. Make that your ideal and you will be leading more genuinely and effectively.