Last week I spoke for a room of approximately 150 leaders. My focus was on the importance of being an authentic leader – someone aligned with your values and what you believe to be morally and ethically right and wrong. My belief is that such alignment breeds trust, fundamental to being the kind of leader others desire to follow. I gave examples from my upcoming leadership book, The Unstoppables, of leaders who were aligned and how that alignment directed their behavior and the decisions they made, and ultimately the positive impact it had on themselves, others and their organization. Several people commented afterwards that the program made them think about how aligned they were and the kind of impact they were having on those they lead.
Our company, The Aligned Leader Institute, defines an aligned leader as someone who acknowledges and is in alignment in all four realms of existence: Spiritual, Thought, Emotional, and Physical. In fact, we have trademarked S.T.E.P UP to Leadership® to indicate the path to effectiveness. You are an aligned leader (and therefore a trustworthy leader) if you consistently choose to be guided by the invisible realm of the spirit, living life in accordance with universal laws and principles. You are an aligned leader if you live by the values you espouse, and you make decisions based on what you morally and ethically believe to be right and wrong. Driven by the unseen spiritual realm, your thoughts, emotions and physical behaviors all line up. Like an apple tree, the quality of the fruit you produce is the outward sign of the quality of your invisible root system. The greater the alignment, the greater the quality.
When acting in alignment with universal truths and with who and what you profess to be, you do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. You may not feel respectful of others at all times, but you are. You might be tempted to act unethically, but you don’t. You may not feel like forgiving, but you do. Why? Because your operating system is powered by something greater than ego, habit and impulse – it is powered by an authentic spiritual realm.
If you are a leader who acts out of ego, you are driven by a need to feel good in the eyes of others. For example, you may avoid speaking to employees about their poor performance for fear they might take offense, or you may take credit for the ideas and achievements of others because your ego craves praise. You act as you do to bolster or protect your image in the eyes of others. Your cup of self-respect is filled by how others view you. Unfortunately, you also stand to lose personal self-worth and a sense of control should others disagree with you. As an ego driven leader, you often fail to make the right decision, have a difficult time dealing effectively with conflict, and struggle with operating from a position of integrity. You are swayed by social mores and norms. You offer little moral or ethical leadership. You are not consistent; therefore, you are not trustworthy.
If you are a leader who acts out of habit and impulse, you do what makes you feel good. It’s work to hold people responsible, so you don’t. It’s tough to discipline yourself to stay physically fit, so you lose interest. It’s difficult to control your emotions, so you tend to react instead of respond. Much like the ego driven leader, as a leader driven by habit and impulse, you are externally controlled. When a negative event occurs, e.g., someone challenges you, your self-respect and self-control dissipate as fear and anger escalate. Rather than respond appropriately to the situation, you react negatively in order to recoup the self-respect you fear you’ve lost. You lack discipline and moral courage. You are not consistent; therefore, you are not trustworthy.
As an aligned leader, your operating system is powerful because it emanates from the spiritual realm. You are not driven by short-term, feel good motives. Yours is a world of powerful vision, strong values and universal truths. Your behavior is not dependent on momentary pleasures or reactions. You understand powers and truths greater than you, and live in accordance with them. Your thoughts, emotions and physical behaviors are governed by them. You are in alignment. You are consistent; therefore, you are authentic and trustworthy.
As an aligned leader, if you claim to value honesty and openness, you live the truth, no matter how difficult. If you say you value integrity, you are ethical in all your dealings, even when it doesn’t serve you personally. If you live by the principle that you hunger for what you feed on, you make sure you surround yourself with literature that nourishes you, uplifts, inspires and propels you. If you live by the universal law of sowing and reaping, you make sure that you sow good seeds into all your relationships. Then both you and your organization reap the rewards that come with mutual respect and caring. If you live by the universal law that says if you desire to be a leader to all, you must be servant to all, you never ask people to do what you yourself are not willing to do. You lead by example. You are consistent; therefore, you are trustworthy.
As an aligned leader, you enjoy self-respect, self-esteem and freedom from external controls. You welcome conflicting points of view, admit shortcomings, overlook offenses, and make tough decisions, no matter how unpopular. You nurture, respect, use and value the diverse talents that others bring to the workplace, leading with a combination of tenderness and toughness, humility and strength. You guide others by using your positional authority combined with the moral courage and wisdom that you derive from living life on a higher plain governed by universal laws and strongly held values.
Others observe your personal power and commitment. They respect your choice to make a difference in the world and your commitment to fulfilling your purpose for being. They see your wisdom in choosing to remain faithful to something greater than you. They sense your commitment to them and their well-being. They recognize you as a leader whose word is your bond, who is fair in your dealings, respectful of others and who gives credit where due, living a life of purpose and reverence. They sense they are safe with you and can trust you. They recognize you as a person of noble character. As a result, they choose to follow you and to do willingly that which they would not ordinarily do.
Because you are consistently aligned, you are not only trustworthy, but you are a powerful person who possesses the ability to transform yourself, your relationships, and your organization.
Be your own best coach, answer the following questions:
- What are my strongly held values?
- What do I morally and ethically believe to be right and wrong?
- What universal truths/principles do I live my life by?
- How would I rate myself as one consistently aligned with universal truths, strongly held values, and a sense of what is morally and ethically right and wrong? 1 (not consistent) to 10 (extremely consistent)
- Based on the questions above, what needs clarification?
- In what area(s) could I improve alignment?
- If I were to align myself consistently with who I profess to be – what I profess to value – what I believe to be morally and ethically right and wrong, what difference would that make to me? Others? My organization?
- What will I commit to doing, beginning today, to become more internally aligned and therefore more trustworthy?
Lance Secretan said it succinctly: Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet, and doing the same thing consistently. This builds trust and followers love leaders they can trust.