Most Leaders I’ve met, and I’ve met thousands of them, love the idea of being an authentic, ‘real’, leader. What about you? I love it but, and there’s a big ‘but’ here, I have to say that it’s not easy in the current competitive market. Despite the rise of informal, matrixed organisations, the majority of companies are still relatively traditional and have a hierarchical structure. And in these types of companies, it’s not uncommon to have a dog-eat-dog culture where everyone’s in competition with everyone… and one mistake can sideline you.
If you’re in a leadership position in an organisation like this, you’ve probably learned to adopt a certain management style to get things done. Maybe you relentlessly pursue your objectives, regardless of employee burnouts. Maybe you run a tight ship and exercise a lot of control over your employees’ work to ensure you hit your numbers. Or perhaps you play along with company politics—because if you don’t, you and your people will be disadvantaged.
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However, if you’re new to the company or if your conscience prompts you to question certain actions, there might be a moment when you realise that this autocratic, even ruthless management style doesn’t sit well with you. In the long run, it could even become destructive to your workplace mental health. Eventually, you could find yourself asking whether you can develop an authentic leadership style—one that aligns with your inner values—without risking a loss of respect and power and eventually becoming a casualty of the culture.
Fortunately, it’s entirely possible, and realistic, to develop an authentic leadership style, regardless of what your company culture is. An authentic leadership style doesn’t automatically mean that you have to become “soft” and wishy-washy. What it does mean is that you develop a leadership style in which your character and values are the most important factors.
It’s critical, however, to keep in mind that those can’t be the only factors that determine your behavior and actions. You need to balance them against your experience, knowledge, and the best interests of your company. For example, even if it’s in your nature to be open, you can’t always be transparent in the workplace. There are times when it’s best to keep certain information under wraps because it could have a demoralising impact on your employees. Or if you’re naturally cautious, there are going to be times when it’s not in your company’s best interest to hold off and instead, you’ll have to be decisive and take action.
It’s important to understand that becoming a more authentic leader isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take a lot of introspection, plus, you’ll have to become accustomed to using your own values as a touchstone instead of simply falling into old management habits. However, with time and practice, you can develop a leadership style that reflects who you are and what you believe in without sacrificing effectiveness.
Yet all things considered, it’s not in your control how your work environment will receive your change in management style. However, if you have to choose between being constantly stressed because your values conflict with your management style or having to find a new position where you can further develop your authentic leadership style, in the long run, the second option is probably better for your mental health and your overall wellness.