Operating in your most authentic state is crucial to your personal leadership experience
Bryce Danielle Bradley
President of the Black Law Students Association, University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2024
Merriam-Webster defines “authentic” as something “true to one’s personality, spirit, or character.” A common misconception is that leaders must be “shapeshifters” for their organization and become whatever anyone needs them to be at any moment. While adaptability is a common characteristic of some of the world’s best leaders, it does not require one to completely disregard their genuine personality traits. Individuals do not have to sacrifice their unique characteristics and talents to be successful leaders. Yes, there are times when one should strategically use their natural skills and traits in appropriate settings, but not at the expense of appearing as a completely different person to each organization member. Operating in your most authentic state is crucial to your personal leadership experience. By staying true to theirselves and highlighting their strengths, leaders can attract opportunities that align with their goals and execute the vision they have created for the organizations they lead.
When a leader presents their genuine self to their organizational members consistently, it allows the members to develop trust in the leader. Throughout my experiences as a member of several organizations, I have personally witnessed moments when members lost confidence in their leader due to the leader being unpredictable and unreliable. Members would be “walking on eggshells” or “beating around the bush” during meetings or completing tasks. Once a leader loses the buy-in and trust of their followers, things start to go downhill. Authentic leadership creates a trusting work environment. These individuals will know their leader’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. Even if a member does not entirely agree with how the leader of their organization operates, they will at least be confident that they know how to approach and communicate with them consistently.
Naturally, authentic leaders inspire others to be their most authentic version of themselves. An organization’s culture can make or break the experience for everyone involved. When leaders allow others on their team to display their individual talents, everything gets better for the entire team. The process by which the organization achieves goals is enhanced because everyone is aware of their value to the organization. When there is a task, it is more apparent for the leader to appoint members who can efficiently and passionately get things done because they know each member’s authentic abilities. Authentic leadership also drives organizational success by encouraging honest feedback from the individuals within the organization. Members will feel more at ease sharing their true thoughts and opinions simply because they feel comfortable doing so.
In my experience, authentic leaders possess a heightened sense of self-awareness is vital for leading with authenticity. Leaders must know their strengths, talents, and skills to better identify where their organizational members can step in to fill the gaps. It is not easy to succeed in leading others if you are unaligned with your values and beliefs. You should encourage other leaders to spend time with themselves and evaluate how their authentic traits translate to their organizational members.
I ran for President of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) because I believe my authentic personality traits would make me a successful organization leader. A leader who is not self-aware can repeatedly set unreasonably high expectations for their members because everything must be their way or the highway. My preference for getting things done may not be the most effective way to run BLSA. For example, I am a morning person. I wake up around 5:30/6:00 a.m. every day of the week. If I expected my executive board to respond to emails and have meetings at six o’clock in the morning, most of them would be dragging their feet and unmotivated to express their authentic traits. The best problem-solver in my organization may not be sharpest at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. Authentic leaders know themselves and how to set their team members up for success to maximize everyone’s talents.
Celebrating authenticity in my organization created transparent relationships with members and has benefited our goals. Several members of BLSA contact me daily for a multitude of reasons. Some members seek my opinion or advice, and some need direction as they handle several aspects of our organization. I firmly believe that BLSA operates smoothly because members feel comfortable texting or calling me whenever needed. In return, I am confident in delegating tasks to individuals based on their unique talents and skills. I can confidently delegate because I intentionally get to know my organization’s members.
Here is the crucial part: I allow my members to get to know me, on both professional and personal levels. Now, my role is unique because I am not leading a Fortune 500 company. I lead an organization full of my peers who elected me to be their President. We are all law students on a more equal playing field than it would be if I were running a major corporation. I still attend class and study with my organizational members, many of whom are my close friends. I can be my authentic, friendly, social, and approachable self while maintaining a standard of respect from BLSA members.
I hope that more student-leaders find the courage to lead authentically. Whatever talents and skills make you unique will work in your favor to drive success in your organization. Spend time with yourself to discover what traits, talents, and abilities are authentic to you. Create an environment for your organization that encourages and celebrates authenticity. Leave a legacy of your leadership that generates success for those behind you.