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The Seven Practices of Authentic Leadership

by Henna InamSeptember 2015

Have you ever worked for a leader you admired greatly? Chances are they are not perfect, but they do inspire you. I’ve had the good luck to work with several leaders who motivated me to go above and beyond. Some were really brilliant in their strategic vision. Others were great as coaches. While each of these leaders had very different styles and strengths, the one quality that was common among them was that they each were authentic and believed in me. They challenged me and they had my back. I wanted to give my 110% to help them succeed.

Most of us want to be this kind of inspiring leader but don’t know how. In my own corporate career, I often found myself wondering how I could be more inspirational and motivating to the people I worked with. Copying others’ style didn’t really work for me. I finally realized something important. It’s hard to be inspirational unless you are inspired yourself. And it is hard to be inspired unless you are connected to your authentic self.

In my book Wired for Authenticity, I list the seven practices of authentic leaders. These practices come from my own 20-year corporate career observing great leaders as well as from the challenges many of my executive coaching clients share with me.

Neuroscience data suggests that as human beings we are actually wired to be authentic. It lowers stress levels and increases our well-being and that of the people we work with. I define authentic leadership as the fullest expression of “me” for the benefit of “we”. Here is a brief overview of each of the seven practices and why they are critical to authentic leadership:

1. Befriend Your Body. Our bodies have far greater intelligence than our brains alone. Our mind is often impacted by societal influences about who we “should” be. Connecting with our bodies tells us what brings us joy, what situations trigger us, and so our body is instrumental in us learning about our truths. Further, in her TEDTalk, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy demonstrates how our bodies can help us actually change our minds. When we connect with our bodies, we use our intuition, posture, and breath to be more centered as we make decisions.

2. Stay Curious. Staying curious helps us know ourselves. We shift who we are being in each moment and over time. We learn about our strengths, our dreams, where we want to develop, and the saboteur thoughts that get in the way of being effective. We learn about how to stay curious with others, listening and engaging more deeply with them to create authentic connection. And we learn to adapt more quickly by staying curious about our fast-changing environment to act from what’s happening now, rather than old assumptions.

3. Let Go. To return to our authenticity, we have to let go of all that we are not. We recognize and let go of the judgments, fears, and “shoulds” that keep us from being adaptive, flowing, and creating with change.

4. Give Yourself an A. This practice is about appreciating ourselves completely, including our flaws. It is very hard to be ourselves if we aren’t comfortable with whom we are. It is about discovering more parts of ourselves so we can be effective in more situations.

5. Choose Be before Do. This practice enables us to take a step back to decide who we want to be that most inspires us in this moment and then act from that place of being. When we choose from inspiration rather than fear, our actions are more effortless and effective and also inspire others.

6. Face the Dragon. This practice is about learning how to act in the face of discomfort. To rewire our brains for greater authenticity, we must practice behaviors that cause discomfort, have difficult conversations, and take action despite our fears. This courage to move boldly toward what we believe is right inspires us and those around us.

7. Dance with the Dream. This practice is about engaging with and moving toward that which brings us greatest aliveness and puts us in flow. It is about engaging our sense of purpose, talents, and creativity in our workplaces so we can be more inspired, more resilient, more creative, and also more inspirational to others.

Together these practices work to help us be more inspired, courageous, and resilient as leaders. They also help us create inclusive workplaces where diverse points of view are heard and debated and people can bring all of whom they are. This is my dream for the workplace and I am interested in connecting with and supporting others who want this for their workplace as well. I invite you to join our movement for Authenticity@Work. Please connect with me. We need every single voice who believes in the power of authenticity to move our workplaces toward greater inspiration and engagement.

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