Toastmaster Dave Zieliniski writes in a November 2015 Toastmaster magazine article that “having the courage to be emotionally open and transparent is a key to being authentic in a leadership role. Authenticity makes you more trustworthy and approachable in any leadership scenario, and that leads to more committed team members and better results.”
I agree with Zieliniski. Just consider the presidency of Barack Obama, or the business acumen of Oprah Winfrey. President Obama, the first African American elected to this office, served the USA with dignity, integrity and grace. And the speech that he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Committee Convention gave the citizenry a greater sense of where his heart and head are. Consequently, many of us were eager to vote him into office in 2007 and 2011 because he displayed the kind of humility that all great leaders possess. From this humility came an aura of selflessness, putting We the People above partisan politics.
Oprah Winfrey was emotionally open and transparent when she told us about being raped as a young child by one of her male family members. Most of us know that Oprah is a successful journalist/former talk show host who is accustomed to getting into people’s business. But Oprah didn’t have to tell us about her business. She could have kept this secret to herself. However, her disclosure heightened our willingness to watch the Oprah Winfrey Show, when it was on, and watch the slate of programs on the Oprah Winfrey Network and snatch copies of O Magazine off newsstands. We have come to realize that all of these platforms are reflections of who Oprah is as a person and philanthropist.
Reflecting on Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey’s styles of leadership is somewhat gratifying for me. This gratification stems from me knowing that these leaders aren’t authentic because they are born this way. They are authentic because their characters were shaped by the love, and hate, that they received, and continue to receive, from others.
I’ve had to show that I’m a MADE man in my roles as husband, father, youth worker and nonprofit executive.
As a husband, I MATCH my actions with my words daily because I told my wife back in May of 1993 that I will love her until death do us part. Love is an active verb that is meant to be shown, not just spoken. That’s why I bend over backwards daily to show her how much I love and appreciate her.
As a father, I ANNOUNCE my feelings to my 15-year-old son when I exude pride toward him for making all A’s on his report card, or disappointment when he fails to complete his chores. By telling him how I feel, he is able to bring his thoughts, feelings and behaviors into alignment with my emotional state.
When I announce prideful sentiments, my son seems more motivated to apply himself in the classroom, keep his eye on the prize of receiving an academic scholarship to the college of his choice.
When I announce disappointment, my son is forced to check himself so he can turn things around, make more of an effort to please me.
As a youth worker, I DISCLOSE my vulnerabilities to disadvantaged youths when I tell them about my life as the oldest of three children raised by a once-poor, single-parent mother. They learn how my humble beginnings heightened my desire to help people help themselves. And I stress to them that I wasn’t impoverished; my mother was. Being impoverished is a choice that involves doing nothing with the gifts God gives us. That’s why I applied myself more in the classroom, because I knew this was the only way I could acquire the knowledge and skills to embark on a career.
And as a nonprofit executive, I EMPHASIZE getting things right while acknowledging my mistakes. When I established my nonprofit organization ACHIEVEMENT SQUARE Development & Training Centers, Inc. back in 2017, I hoped to show more people how to lead independently fearless and empowered lives. I proposed programs for youths and adults, but we were not awarded the requested $250,000 in grant funding. My mistake was thinking established grant makers would embrace us, newcomers, with open arms. But I righted our sinking ship in 2018 when I started developing working relationships with like-minded individuals. To date, this small coalition of 12 has raised over $12,000 from individual donors for something we call the LEAD RIGHT Scholarship Fund. And in April/May of 2020, we will award four (4) one-time scholarships of $3,000 each to underrepresented, low-income/first-generation minority youths residing in the Washington, DC/Metropolitan area.
So, remember, authentic leaders aren’t born, they’re MADE.
MATCH your actions with your words.
ANNOUNCE your feelings.
DISCLOSE your vulnerabilities.
And, EMPHASIZE getting things right while acknowledging your mistakes.
Do these four things, and you too will possess the makings of an authentic leader.