Genuine Leadership in Any Role

Female leader standing and smiling near camera

Many leaders struggle to be authentic in their roles. Through many years of leadership roles in both the military and the civilian sectors, I know what it’s like to think you must put on “camo” just to show up for work. Unfortunately, when we hide our genuine selves, we are ultimately less effective leaders because we are less capable of inspiring trust and motivation in our teams. This can lead to high turnover, businesses failing, and employee burnout.

As an engineer and a Naval officer, I have often been the only female in the room. And through my role as a female leader, I have had to learn how to embrace my unique leadership style and lead authentically. Through my experiences, I have developed what I call “The 3 Be’s” to become a genuine leader: be self-aware, be proficient, and be yourself. With these, we can learn about who we are, cultivate our strengths, learn from our weaknesses, and develop a style of leadership that feels true and reflects our genuine selves.

Be self-aware, be proficient, and be yourself.

Authentic leaders gain respect and trust from their teams and foster environments of growth and open communication. With these foundations, teams are more effective and more successful.

The three Be’s are the three keys to being a genuine leader who can guide their business to a successful future.

Be Self-Aware: Discovering your Genuine Self

As leaders, we can’t be ourselves if we don’t know who we are. Luckily, we can learn from situations that seem inauthentic to help us calibrate who we indeed are and how we can lead more genuinely.

My first leadership position as a junior officer was heading a department of about 13 people. I had never been in a leadership role like this before, so I didn’t know who I was or how to lead like “myself.” So instead, I looked at the men who were my superiors, many of whom were bold, loud leaders: “yellers.” That was the way they inspired confidence and motivated their teams to be better. I thought this style of leadership was the only way to lead, which is simply not true.

At first, I tried to be like them. But it was very confusing, and I felt awful about how I was acting towards my team. Eventually, I came to realize that this just wasn’t me.

Discovering what is not your style is an essential step toward figuring out what is.

Being a researcher at heart, I used this as an opportunity to learn more about myself; I began to look for resources that could help me, such as the Clifton Strengths Finder online survey. When I took the test, I discovered things about myself and leadership that I had never consciously realized before. The test provided characteristics, such as compassion and selflessness; these were attributes that I didn’t know I possessed and could use to lead in my way.

Discovering what is not your style is an essential step toward figuring out what is.

It’s essential to conduct self-analysis before you can genuinely lead others.

Whether through personality tests, professional feedback from trusted sources, or personal introspection, you need to take an honest assessment and identify your actual characteristics; learn about your strengths, weaknesses, and what situations and environments help you thrive.

The more you learn about who you are and who you’re not, the more authentically and effectively you can lead. 

Be Proficient: Focus on Growth

To be a great leader, you must be proficient in your field and never stop growing. Through self-awareness, we take an honest stock of our strengths and weaknesses. From here, we can continue to use and develop our strengths to their optimal advantage, and we can find ways to build proficiency in areas where we are naturally less skillful.

It’s important to know the most intelligent person in the room; identify people who know more than you and learn from them!

Not only do great leaders focus on their growth, but they also focus on cultivating a culture of growth for their teams and employees.

As leaders, we often must lead people working in fields adjacent or complementary to our own. In these situations, it’s natural to lead someone who knows more than you about their field. Take time to learn what they know and what they need to do their best work. Foster trust in their abilities by ensuring they have space to actualize their understanding.

Not only do great leaders focus on their growth, but they also focus on cultivating a culture of growth for their teams and employees. Therefore, provide your people with as many quality resources, mentors, and opportunities for growth as possible. In this way, everyone becomes more proficient.

Confidence is key to genuinely leading; by developing proficiency and fostering that, we increase our teams’ overall competence and confidence in those we lead.

Black female leader points to not e on wall with team watching.

Be Yourself: Lead Genuinely

After developing self-awareness, and proficiency, we are now ready to truly show up as leaders in the fullness of our genuine selves. We know what we know and what we don’t know, and now all we must do is be ourselves.

But sometimes, “Just be yourself” is easier said than done.

Being yourself requires courage; it takes courage and confidence to be open, vulnerable, and off your camo. It may sound obvious, but the only way to be seen as a great leader is to allow yourself to be seen.

Many people struggle to be themselves because they feel like they must fit the mold to fit in and succeed, especially in leadership roles. This inevitably leads to feeling inauthentic.

Inauthenticity, especially in leadership, destroys trust and confidence. When we are being inauthentic, not only are we more likely to be stressed because we are trying to lead in ways that feel unnatural, but our teams are also more likely to distrust us.

The only way to be seen as a great leader is to allow yourself to be seen.

Trust and loyalty are essential to teams that are proficient and successful. As leaders, we must be out front modeling authenticity by being our true selves. This is how we can inspire our team members to do the same.

Ironically, one of the best ways to be yourself is to consider who inspires you; what leaders do you want to be like? By imagining the most inspiring leaders, we can identify what characteristics they have that we are most drawn to. Often, we also possess these same characteristics. By having a variety of role models, we can emulate what we appreciate about them. In this way, we naturally bring out the qualities we find to be most important in leadership.

Going Forward

In a world with far too many people hiding who they indeed are, leaders must take the front by developing and modeling what it means to be your genuine self. Though it will not always be an easy journey, we endeavor to take it because being genuine inspires trust, confidence, and loyalty.

We must develop self-awareness to share our gifts and understand the areas where we are less developed. By understanding our weaknesses, we create awareness around where we can grow and thus who we can learn from, and we also learn where we need others and how we can allow them to share their strengths.

We must also stay focused on growth, not only by developing our proficiency but by fostering environments and creating opportunities for those we lead to learn more. By continuing to grow, learn, and work on ourselves, we inspire everyone around us to do the same.

Perhaps most difficult of all, we must learn to be ourselves. In this way, we can stop wasting time and energy trying to be like others and develop our unique leadership style.

Though we may learn from our heroes, mentors, and role models, we ultimately are all different people, and we all have a unique approach to leadership. Therefore, it is up to you to practice these “3 Be’s” and bring forth the extraordinary leader that only you can be.