Embracing Authenticity for Inclusive Leadership

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What is your “word of the year?” Merriam-Webster recently announced theirs: authentic. In their announcement, Merriam-Webster unpacked their choice and its importance…

“Authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media…Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.”  

For many, authenticity means being relatable, honest, and non-performative. But no matter how we define it, we know it when we see it, just like we recognize inauthenticity. Inauthenticity has a way of pricking our ears up and putting us on guard. When a person, leader, organization, or institution comes across as disingenuous, we often pause, question why they aren’t being forthcoming, and assess what they really want from us.

We live in a time when buzzwords and trends dominate our conversations, posts, meetings, and media. In this landscape, being authentic stands out as a powerful and vital concept, and its significance for building trust, fostering inclusivity, and achieving sustainable success is becoming increasingly apparent for leaders, teams, and organizations.

Leading with authenticity includes recognizing the power of diversity and valuing, pursuing, and respecting different perspectives, experiences, and talents. When this is the leadership standard, then team performance improves, and the organizational culture is experienced as one of inclusion and belonging. 

So, what does it mean to convey authenticity, particularly in the context of diverse teams and organizations?

  1. Self-Awareness and Curiosity: Authentic leaders understand their own values, beliefs, and biases. They put in the time, work, and energy needed to identify their strengths and continuously work on opportunities to develop. This self-awareness allows them to lead with integrity and respond with curiosity.

  2. Empathy and Compassion: Leaders who understand the challenges and experiences of their individual team members can better support and motivate them. By listening to and connecting with their employees on a personal level, these leaders foster a sense of belonging and a more compassionate organizational culture.

  3. Adaptability and Growth: Good leaders acknowledge they don’t have all the answers and are willing to listen, learn, and grow, especially when encountering ideas, perspectives, and lived experiences different from their own. This willingness to evolve sets an example and creates space for their teams to do the same.

  4. Consistency and Integrity: Authentic leaders are consistent in their actions and decisions and align their behavior with their values. Essentially, they do what they say and say what they do. This integrity is a powerful force for building trust and credibility, both within the team and throughout the organization.

  5. Humility and Transparency: Being authentic means engaging in honest communication, openly sharing thoughts and processes, genuinely seeking feedback, and admitting mistakes. This transparent communication builds trust and encourages others to do the same.

Authenticity is a guiding principle in leadership. It directly impacts how leaders show up for their teams, embody the standards of their organization, and navigate the opportunities and challenges of a diverse world. Being true to oneself and valuing the unique and authentic qualities of others creates more innovative, inclusive, and impactful work.

As you consider your own “word of the year” and reflect on your leadership journey, perhaps Merriam-Webster’s choice will resonate with you. Either way, I encourage you to embrace the power of authenticity and see how it transforms your leadership.

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