The real deal: engage your team by leading with authenticity

Friday, August 21, 2015 - 17:38

Guest post by Gabrielle Dolan

By 2020 Generation Y will be the most dominant generation in the workforce and they are changing the way we lead. These changes are predominantly due to Gen Ys healthy disrespect for authority, where they are prepared to follow but this will not be based on title or position, it will be based on a leader’s ability to inspire and ignite them.

Leaders who think they need to have all the answers because they are in a position of authority will not relate well to this generation. Similarly, leaders who feel they need to be bullet proof and not show any vulnerability or emotion will also struggle to connect. Essentially this generation is looking for leaders to be authentic, not perfect. Perfect leaders are not real and real leaders are not perfect.

Being an authentic leader takes courage because it involves bringing your whole self to your leadership; your passions, your values, what you care about and what you are prepared to take a stand for. Many leaders are unwilling to share these aspects with their team whilst some believe that you need to be bullet proof at work because you have a position of authority. Others may feel they need to have all the answers and avoid showing any vulnerability or emotion. This is not authentic nor is it inspiring.

Why now?

We constantly ask people to do more with less but how do we expect to achieve that if we don’t inspire them. Attracting and retaining talent is still a challenge and we cannot expect to keep our best and brightest people, let alone attract them if we don’t inspire them. 

Companies spend a fortune on graduate programs to only see workers leave after a couple of years, justifying their departure with reasons like ‘I am not prepared to do the hard yards’. Typically, these graduates are not leaving to take on an easier role, they are leaving to work for leaders who are authentic and inspire them.

Consequently, the ability to engage and inspire in a way that is authentic is becoming one of the most important skills someone in a position of leadership needs to possess.

Make a stand and show vulnerability

The key to becoming an authentic leader is firstly to discover what you stand for; what you are passionate about, what you value and what you are prepared to advocate. Once these factors are identified, you then need to have the courage to bring them to your leadership. As mentioned previously, people are looking for leaders who are authentic, who show emotion and are prepared to show vulnerability. Showing vulnerability is not a weakness and as Brene Brown says, “vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage”

Say it as it is

Authentic leaders also communicate in a way that truly connects. When working with a CEO who would use the term executional excellence it became apparent that most of his team did not fully understand what it meant. When asked to explain the term he said something along the lines of, ‘it’s the combination of visualisation followed by the realisation of the agreed deliverables in line with strategic direction’. When pushed further and with evident frustration he said, ‘Put simply what it means is when we decide to do something, let’s just make sure we do it right’. Every time leaders use corporate jargon, they isolate and disconnect from people. Leaders need to use less jargon and be prepared to be more authentic; basically they need to say it as it is.

Share stories

Leaders who believe that business is business and personal is personal and never shall the two meet, will struggle to connect and inspire today’s generation. Essentially the two can be successfully merged when leaders have the courage and ability to share a personal story attached to a business message. Stories have the power to communicate in a way that engages and truly connects with people and is a key leadership competency in today’s business world.

Authentic leadership is needed now more than ever before as it helps to engage, connect and inspire a generation. The leaders who have the courage to step into this will be the ones that are sought after and rewarded.

Gabrielle Dolan works across Corporate Australian helping leaders humanise the way the lead by being more ‘real’. Her latest book Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results, is available online at all major retailers. To find out more head to