Authentic Leadership Comes from Building Our StrengthsI will be delivering a presentation next April at a healthcare leadership conference. The conference theme focuses on the courage to bring authenticity to action.

A couple of my books have chapters on authenticity as one of seven core leadership principles. In light of our work over the past 18 months with Zenger Folkman’s strengths-based leadership development system, I was excited to put together a presentation showing the strong links between these two core concepts.

Most leadership development approaches and competency models focus on improving weaker areas. Needs assessments and performance evaluations look for gaps and design training or build improvement plans to fix weaknesses. A key reason for the high failure rate of this typical approach stems from attempts to change a leader’s stripes. Much deeper authenticity — and much higher success — comes from building a leader’s natural strengths.

“Finding my voice” is a phrase often used by artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people to describe the often difficult process of learning from other artists’ styles and, from these, developing the style that most truly represents you. This applies not just to artists, but to people in just about any walk of life. Each of us learns from what surrounds us — for example, the expectations and value systems of parents, society, institutions, friends, peers, our boss, or our organization. But then we have to ask ourselves whether these things really reflect our own personal values. And if they don’t, we need to move beyond them to find what does. This takes a lot of work — and even more courage.

In Learning to Lead, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith wrote, “To be authentic is literally to be your own author (the words derive from the same Greek root), to discover your native energies and desires, and then find your own way of acting on them. When you have done that, you are not existing simply to live up to an image posed by the culture or by family tradition or some other authority. When you write your own life, you have played the game that was natural for you to play. You have kept covenant with your own promise.”

A key exercise in The Extraordinary Leader workshop is choosing which leadership competency to develop further. Finding “The Leadership Sweet Spot: Strengths, Passion, and Organizational Need” is a search for authentic leadership. This calls for a leader to understand his or her innate values and passions, have the courage to hear how others perceive their actions through feedback, and to meld these with the leadership that team/organization needs.

Tomorrow we publish my September blogs in the October issue of The Leader Letter. A continuing focus of many of my blog posts and articles is understanding what strengths others see in me and building those from good to great. One of the blogs in tomorrow’s newsletter, “Building Leadership Strengths is 2 – 3 Times More Effective Than Fixing Weaknesses,” shows the results of a series of pre- and post-studies in which Zenger Folkman examined the impact of leaders choosing to fix weaknesses versus building on existing strengths. 12 to 18 months later the leaders who magnified their existing strengths showed two – three times more improvement in leadership effectiveness than leaders who worked on fixing their weaknesses.

Learn more about strengths-based leadership and coaching skills development in my complimentary webinar 11 Keys to Building Extraordinary Leaders and Coaches.