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Strong Leaders Cultivate Character and Authenticity





Brad-Lomenick-headshotAuthentic leaders have to be approachable and real. Over the years at Catalyst, we’ve tried to be authentic as an organization and as a leadership movement. We strive to be available, answering e-mails quickly, and even posting our e-mails on our website. We’ve maintained a concierge service since we started Catalyst that made following up with folks and connecting personally a priority. It’s incredibly important to us that we are authentic, humble, and personable. No matter how big our organization gets, we want to maintain this essential trait.

I try my best to be personable, even as Catalyst continues to grow. When you are in a hurry or think someone isn’t worth your time, remember that you were once in that position. One piece of advice I tell leaders all the time is when you’re small, act big. And when you’re big, act small.

Author and friend Bob Goff values authenticity and approachability. He even put his cell phone number in his recent book Love Does. He wants folks to connect with him and feel the ability to talk with him. Accessibility is so important in today’s culture. With social media and technology, the game has changed. People expect to be able to always connect with you.

Here are some best practices I’ve found helpful to cultivate the essential leadership trait of authenticity:

Practice self-awareness. Before you can release your true self you have to recognize your true self. Too many people refuse to accept and even name their weaknesses, struggles, and pitfalls. As a result, they accept a version of themselves they believe others will like better. Understand who you really are.

Question yourself. I encourage leaders to evaluate their self-acceptance with honest questions: Whose attention do you crave? Are you chasing the approval of friends, colleagues, and customers? What is it you don’t like about yourself, and how can that shortcoming also be a strength? Self-diagnosis can lead to self-discovery, which is the only path to authenticity.

Move from self-promotion to storytelling. I can appreciate the effort made by individuals in the public eye to shape their personal brands. But I also worry about the effects this can have on living an authentic life. If you want to be a change maker, begin to see public outlets as places for sharing your personal story.

Resist the urge to create a digital alter ego. Refuse to hide behind a website or Facebook page. Instead, adopt the mind-set of Claire Diaz Ortiz, social innovation director for Twitter: “Social media is not just about being connected. It’s about being transparent, intimate, and honest.”3

Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Instead, grow comfortable enough with who you are to laugh and laugh often. When you are able to accept and even chuckle at your blunders and mess-ups, others will too. And this common experience will help you bond with them.

Build a support network. Beware of the temptation to surround yourself with flatterers who only tell you what you want to hear. Keep honest people in your life that can help you stay grounded and keep from thinking you’ve arrived.

Be interested over interesting. Be more concerned with listening instead of talking. Focus on others, not yourself.

Constantly turn over the rocks in your life and leadership. Uncover areas that need to be made clean. Big things are at stake. It’s exhausting to keep up a fake persona. Learn to be honest. It’s easier to impress people from a distance, so many leaders keep others at arm’s length. For example, we often prefer digital interaction to life-on-life exchanges. This insulates us and prevents others from uncovering our weaknesses and flaws. But it also reduces our ability to influence others.

This is why I think it is a good idea to invite a direct report you trust to do a 360-degree review of you every now and then. It’s uncomfortable but also helpful. As Rick Warren says, “You can’t love people and influence them unless you are close to them. Up close means you can see my warts. You can impress people from a distance, but you can only influence them up close.”

This means being willing to hear things you don’t like without getting defensive. Tough conversations will lead to deeper intimacy and trust, and they will help you embrace your true self. If you’re like me, the thought of this rattles your cage and makes you sweat. Being ourselves is more uncomfortable and difficult than we’d like to admit. But the result of authenticity is freedom from fear, and this is a liberty that every leader needs to truly reach their potential.

Be strong in grace. Your grace, your gift, your ability, who God’s called you to be, just be yourself. . . . Don’t be anybody else, don’t compare yourself, just be you. If “you” is not everybody’s cup of tea, then don’t worry about it.—Judah Smith, senior pastor of The City Church

Be who you are. When we attempt to be someone else, we allow fear to control our lives. Fear that others won’t like us. Fear that others won’t follow us. Fear that we won’t be good enough. Unfortunately, the real you has to surface at some point. So inauthentic leaders often end up living a fractured life where their true selves are unleashed in private or only with certain individuals. And as we’ve seen too often in modern times, living a secret life is fraught with many dangers. In the new economy of leadership, authenticity rises to the top. You must unleash the real you.

One of the challenges in organizations today is creating space for leaders to admit and share their challenges. We need to create community where people can talk about the things they are dealing with without getting arrows in the back. Be willing to share your struggles.

To me, the pastor or leader who is viewed as a normal person has an extreme advantage over the one who is viewed as the perfect spiritual leader. To demystify your pastoral role, you’ll have to take some self-revealing risks.—Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv

At a recent Catalyst event, we filled hundreds of balloons with helium and offered them to attendees outside of the venue. When someone took a balloon, they were handed a marker and challenged to write their greatest fears on the balloon’s face. Some scribbled “insecurity” while others wrote “failure” or “lack of acceptance.” Participants then released the balloons and watched them float away. The lesson: you have to admit your fears in order to accept who you are and grow into the leader you want to become.

As those latex bulbs floated into the stratosphere that day, I felt a sense of authenticity descend upon our attendees. I hoped we’d made them better leaders through this small act that helped them become a bit less fearful and a bit more authentic. My hope was that they would live better and, as a result, lead others better.

Note: The preceding is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Brad Lomenick is President and Key Visionary of Catalyst—a movement purposed to equip and inspire young Christian leaders through events, resources, consulting and community. Follow him on Twitter @bradlomenick, or read his personal blog at bradlomenick.com.

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