Being a manager and being a leader aren’t the same thing. People might have to listen to a manager because the manager has authority, but it’s not the same as following like you would do with a leader. There are several things that distinguish solid leadership from an authoritarian, which we cover briefly in this video and below.
What does it mean to be an authentic leader?
1. Self awareness
Being self aware means being cognizant of how your actions affect others, and how you might be perceived as a result. While a good leader has the drive to make tough decisions even if they might not be embraced by everyone, it’s valuable to anticipate how your actions might be received.
Will you hurt, offend, or alienate others in something you’re about to do or say? How will your plan help or enrich someone? Making solid decisions hinges on a strong command of these skills.
2. Internalizing perspectives
Can you take constructive criticism and internalize it, grow from it? It’s a tricky thing to be able to hear someone challenge your viewpoint without getting offended or defensive. If you want your team to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and contributing, it’s important that you as a leader don’t react poorly when they do.
Otherwise the team will be afraid of repercussions, which squashes ideas.
3. Openness to other points of view
This one is related to #2, with one key difference. It’s not just a matter of how willing you are to hear opposing view points, but how willing you are to be persuaded. Will you stubbornly stick to your guns no matter what, or are you open to changing your stance if someone presents cogent enough arguments?
Being a leader that is willing to take suggestions, trust someone else’s judgement, and own your mistakes goes a long way toward instilling trust and collaboration with your team.
Some leaders choose to regularly withhold details, plans, or the state of things from their team. “It keeps them focused,” one might try to rationalize. “It’s above their pay grade,” might be another.
While it may not make sense to be totally open with the team about every minutia, people will respect you more when they can see you’re being honest with them. This can include plans and ideas, but also means owning your mistakes and acknowledging when others have good ideas or made valuable contributions.