Discovering the Authentic Leader Within You

* This blog post has been adapted from an article I wrote for the Nashville Business journal on authentic leadership. 

Running a startup is a challenge unlike any other. I would compare it to riding a roller coaster during a thunderstorm while trying to catch rain in a bucket full of holes. 

authentic leadership

To survive the ride, many leadership experts have recently begun to explore the concept of authentic leadership. A key component of authentic leadership is being able to connect to your core feelings.

Yet, in the business world, we often have a hard time engaging with our core in a healthy way. We tend to lead with strategy and thinking, while discounting what’s happening internally. We don’t take the time to listen to what our hearts are saying.

Nashville author Chip Dodd wrote the book “Voice of the Heart,” which provides a good framework for living an authentic life. While his three steps seem simple, it is the work within each step that shows us how to live and lead authentically.

  1. Feel your feelings. When our heart speaks, its language is our feelings. There are eight core feelings that we all can innately feel—hurt, sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, shame, guilt and gladness. The first step to authentic leadership is learning to recognize each of these feelings within yourself. 
  2. Tell the truth. Stephen James, a mentor of mine, once said, “The heart always wins because it always tells the truth.” No matter what we as leaders do to avoid our feelings, they will win in the end. We can either listen to our heart, or we can suffer the consequences.

    If we don’t listen—and come to believe that it’s okay to be sad, angry, lonely or fearful—we will naturally manipulate those feelings into something else. For example, sadness will turn into self-pity, anger into depression or perfectionism, loneliness into apathy and fear into anxiety or rage. 

    By listening to our feelings, sadness can show us what we value, anger helps us tell the truth, loneliness frees us to ask for help, and fear helps us practice and prepare for the future.

  3. Trust others and the process. Business is a journey, and when led authentically, it is shared with others. Google wasn’t built in a day by one person. It was someone’s vision that others rallied around and together they built something great. They trusted each other and the process. 

At ProviderTrust each morning, we meet as a team to discuss and learn from each other. During the 10 – 15 minute meeting, we read one value or one business practice from a document we call “The ProviderTrust Playbook”. The Playbook contains core values and business practices that help guide our thoughts and actions.

authentic leadership

One of our core values is “Tell the truth and do what is good”.

This core value reminds our team daily that it is more important to tell the truth about your feelings than to put on a happy face for one of the many reasons society tells us to.

We want our team members and our clients to feel conformable discussing their real feelings about whatever is going on in their lives.

Whether it is a tough situation at work, if one of our clients is frustrated with a function or workflow, or if something is going on outside of work that is causing them to not focus on their job.

Only when those core feelings are discussed honestly and processed in a healthy manner, can we as individuals and a company get to something that is “good” and life-giving for everyone.

Beware though that living a life of “feelings” is not easy. In fact it is sometimes messy, hurtful, lonely and/or sad. However, once you start living from your heart, you won’t ever want to go back. You will be fully known by yourself and others. The gladness that comes from that is unexplainable, and often times it is one of the most freeing experiences of your life. 

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