Unlocking Your Authentic Leadership Potential: A Guide for Men

a superhero man leader who has heart and authenticity.

Leadership can be a very enigmatic process. Ever cracked open a leadership book expecting a definitive, expert set of instructions for success, only to find a mirror staring back?

My love of leadership has been deep and enduring. So much so that I chose to complete a Masters degree in Leadership Studies. I came into the program looking for the authoritative decisive best practices, techniques, and frameworks that would propel my leadership and allow me to take on more and more senior roles. What had decades of academic research in the field of leadership have to say on how to become a great leader? Well, almost the opposite of what I expected. The best leaders are authentic and aware. My journey ever since has been learning to live this truth and shifting my leadership. Some of it has been uncomfortable and humbling but I wouldn’t change the leader I am today for anything else. 

A group of office workers all wearing masks showing they can't be their genuine selves at work.

More than ever the world needs leaders that can be genuine and bring emotional awareness into the workplace. As Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey note in their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization: “…most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.”

Is it any wonder we, as leaders, are spending our time addressing petty arguments, team projects that stall and get mired in conflict, high employee turnover and addressing ‘resistance’ as its labelled in large scale change initiatives? 

This, my friends, is not your typical leadership guide. It’s a field manual for men who want to ditch the masks and unlock their unique brand of authentic leadership. We’ll delve into the often-neglected terrain of emotional intelligence, explore the art of building genuine relationships, and learn to harness the power of vulnerability as a leadership superpower.

Prepare to shed the corporate armour, embrace the messy humanness of yourself and your team, and forge a path to leadership that’s not just effective, but deeply fulfilling. Are you ready for the unscripted, heart-centred journey of becoming the leader you were born to be? Don’t panic, I can tell you there will be no poetry or yoga involved. 

Ian had been a Manager and is now a Director with nearly ten years of leadership under his belt. He was organized, incredibly intelligent and enjoyed planning out strategies, mapping the work and then tracking progress. As he climbed the ranks and projects ballooned in complexity, the cracks in his leadership style began to show.

His team, once energized by his vision, grew frustrated. Communication felt transactional, feedback one-sided, and conflicts simmered beneath the surface, erupting in unproductive meetings. Morale dipped, innovation sputtered, and Ian felt increasingly isolated, like a lone wolf howling at the moon of missed deadlines and frustrated colleagues.

He wasn’t alone. Countless leaders, particularly men conditioned in the “heroic leader” image, fall prey to the same trap. We misattribute ideas made popular from venues like Marine training camps suggesting that leaders own all responsibility, must lead from the front and be mentally tough. While these may be effective in some situations, what gets lost in the conversation is some of the more human-centric elements. 

The problem isn’t logic itself; it’s the belief that logic alone can navigate the intricate webs of human interactions, emotions, and motivations that make up any team, any organization. It’s like trying to sail a ship with just the windward sail, ignoring the tides, the currents, the subtle shifts in the atmosphere that ultimately determine the course.

Ian’s story is a familiar one, a cautionary tale for all of us who prioritize results over relationships, clarity over connection. It’s time to break free from the logic silo and embrace a new kind of leadership, one that harnesses the power of both thought and feeling, strategy and empathy, reason and intuition.

image of a man hiking a steep ascent, learning a steep learning curve and that soft skills are the hard skills.

The concept of “emotional intelligence” might sound like a term plucked from a self-help aisle, right up there with chakra balancing and motivational scented candles. I get it. I spent half my career ensuring ideas were supported with evidence and data, convinced logic was the key to unlocking every leadership door. But like Ian, I slammed headfirst into a wall built out of frustration, disengagement, and missed opportunities. When I later changed organizations where the work we did was much more human and life and death, it was clear that relying solely on logic was never going to get us where we needed to go. 

Working with my coach, I completed an emotional intelligence assessment and learned that there was more than ample room for improvement. I went from near the top of the class in IQ to bottom of the barrel in EQ. It was a humbling and frustrating report that left me feeling deflated and inadequate. Book smarts had always been easy for me. Challenging problems could be solved by enough research, reworking of ideas and looking at alternate strategies. How was I going to learn something as vague as emotional intelligence? What ever happened to leave your feelings at the door, this is a professional workplace? 

That rude awakening opened up the path for a new journey. Thanks to working with a very gifted coach, I was able to learn different skills in real time as things came up. Here’s the rub: ignoring emotions doesn’t make them disappear. They fester under the surface, poisoning the very relationships that fuel your success. Authentic leadership is about embracing the humanness of yourself and your team, recognizing that genuine connection builds trust, trust breeds loyalty, and loyal teams move mountains. It’s not a fluffy perk; it’s the difference between building a stagnant silo and nurturing a thriving ecosystem of talent and innovation.

Think of it as learning a whole new language. You’re not just mastering data and deadlines, you’re decoding sighs, deciphering body language, and translating unspoken anxieties. It’s like learning to read minds, only cooler because, well, you’re actually connecting with real people, not fictional X-Men.

And yes, it’s a skill anyone can develop, not some mystical gift bestowed upon the touchy-feely chosen ones. It takes practice, sure, but unlike my undergrad calculus, this is learning that actually use every day. I discovered that sometimes simply acknowledging the elephant in the room – the simmering tension, the unspoken resentment – can shift the whole dynamic, clearing the air and paving the way for real progress.

Bringing more emotional intelligence isn’t about living exclusively and making decisions in the realm of feelings. It’s recognizing and accepting that emotions are going to be present and we are better off acknowledging and understanding them. It isn’t possible to ask your people to be robotic Mr. Spock characters who live only in logic. I wouldn’t want them to be anyways, because I’m not. Sometimes a mere thirty seconds to a minute of addressing emotions in an hour-long meeting can produce breakthrough results.

Remember Ian? His journey reflects the transformative power of embracing authentic leadership. By developing self-awareness through feedback and coaching, he learned to manage his reactions and navigate challenging situations with newfound calm. He began actively listening to his team, understanding perspectives beyond his own. The once-tense meetings transformed into vibrant forums of respectful dialogue. He facilitated conflict resolution with empathy and fairness, fostering a climate of trust and collaboration. In Ian’s story, logic and emotional intelligence worked in concert, unlocking his team’s full potential and cementing his position as a leader who valued both head and heart.

Being a genuine and authentic leader means accepting your own human side and that of others. We’ve all had that experience of leaders who want to put a positive spin on everything, making our struggles seem imaginary. This pacifying and minimizing approach erodes trust, one of the key currencies of leadership. Authentic leadership and emotional intelligence go hand in hand, empowering you to build strong, resilient relationships within your team.

Here are a few key areas to focus your own emotional intelligence and authentic leadership:

Self-awareness. Emotions are part of our daily lives. Everything from the decisions you make, your reactions and sometimes triggers, even your creativity and ability to find novel solutions can all be affected by your mood. Team members are going to be too scared to share early warning signs or solutions if they fear your reaction. They may get to compliance and following directions but breaking through to the next level means you keep your emotions in check, learn to work through challenging emotions and situations and have the inner emotional strength to then help hold and heal the team with emotionally charged situations. 

Empathy and social awareness – If I am in a meeting and it’s clear that there are simmering resentments happening then I am either addressing it in the moment or either asking individuals to have a conversation afterwards. Knowing when things are building towards an implosion, or worse a completely fractured relationship between colleagues is an important part of your emotional intelligence. Sometimes even more challenging for some leaders is in that one to one place where you have to give hard feedback. I’ve learned that I can be most direct and honest when I can step into a place of authentic leadership and we have the trust that I am sharing from a place of genuine caring and supporting their growth to be the best leader or team member they can be. “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” as Brene Brown points out in her book Dare To Lead. 

Effective relationships – Ultimately our greatest successes and where others are most generous to us when we fall short and don’t show up as our best selves are those where the relationship is strong and resilient. Relationships deepen and grow as we show up as our true selves. Trust is built over time, safety creates the space for vulnerability. We don’t have to be enmeshed as leaders and can still have professional distance, but it’s also okay to not be perfect all the time. Sometimes acknowledging a frustrating or confusing situation is enough for everyone’s shoulders to come down a little and be willing to dig in and see how they can help contribute to the solution. 

Genuine leadership and emotional intelligence are your new strategic superpowers. They unlock innovation, adaptability, and collaboration, driving overall workplace success. Embracing this journey involves introspection, but it’s not magical woo-woo. It’s a scientific exploration of your inner landscape, leading to better self-understanding and more effective interactions. Give yourself time and space to explore. Seek honest feedback and embrace the power of your whole, multifaceted self. Soon, you’ll discover that authentic leadership isn’t a burden, but a source of energy and empowerment, creating a ripple effect of success within your team. Remember, leadership from the inside out wins the race every time. So, are you ready to step out of the silo and build your emotional bridge? The path awaits, beckoning you towards a more fulfilling and impactful leadership journey.

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