Living and Leading with Authenticity

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In the marketplace, more and more people are now seeking authenticity, and whole industries have grown up in the last ten years to meet that need. The demand for artisan products ranging from spirits to furniture to health care products has grown significantly. “Authentic” connotes something that’s real, something that’s connected to the world around it, and something that’s honest. When we seek out “authentic” restaurants, we are looking for something made by humans rather than stamped out in a factory and re-heated. When we purchase “authentic” antiques, we want a piece that is actually from that other time and place, not a replica. In other words, when we seek “authenticity” we’re seeking something real, tangible, and connected to the world around us. In an age when privacy is difficult to come by and it’s hard to predict what can go viral in an instant, people are also seeking authenticity in their work and their leaders. They’re seeking that authenticity, I think, because despite the electrons whizzing about in the air, people still have a fundamental need to connect to each other and the world in tangible ways.

Authentic in the context of “living and leading” is just like that handmade loaf of bread from Mom’s kitchen or the reclaimed shiplap on the wall of the newly renovated home: it means being a leader who is real, connected, and honest. An authentic leader is mindful of both the common good and individual good. An authentic leader both requires respect and gives it. An authentic leader is the same person on Monday morning as they were on Sunday morning or Friday night, and they intend to do good rather than just avoiding doing wrong. They are the same person from day to day–they assure people around them their “face” is in fact their “person” and mean it. An authentic leader will put others before themselves, and they will always seek to leave their teams and their organizations better than they found them.

Leaders also have a responsibility to husband their own personal resources and set a good example of character to lead their teams to high performance. In the military, we call that “walking the talk,” but that same principle is played out in all occupations and every endeavor daily. As leaders, we must never ask someone to do something we are unwilling to do ourselves. We follow the rules we set for others, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and help our teammates out when it’s necessary. Truly, who wants work for someone who is not who they pretend to be? Who wants to follow someone who can’t relate to their teammates as human beings, or is unwilling to follow their own rules? The answer: no one wants to follow a leader like that–at least not for very long–no matter how many digits in the paycheck.

In my upcoming book, The Five Be’s, I discuss my philosophy for living an authentic life. The Five Be’s are Be Proud, Be Free, Be Virtuous, Be Balanced, and Be Courageous, and the underlying principle is living and leading authentically. It’s a talk I used to give to the new Airmen when they were freshly arrived at my unit, where I offered them a positive vision after months or years of hearing little else but “don’t” and “no.” I think it’s applicable to all age groups, not just the young ones, because each of us must wake and make decisions daily about what gets our energy that day. Living authentically and The Five Be’s is certainly a philosophy applicable for leaders who want to be their best and get the best from their teams. Good character and authenticity are perquisites for good leadership.

It’s central to good leadership to set the example by being authentic, and encouraging our teams to do the same. While sometimes, the job we’re doing requires personal sacrifice and the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears,” leaders cannot be blind to the human factor in every equation. Leadership, after all, is primarily a human endeavor. We must remember our people can’t give 110% all the time; no one can give more than they have. So while that “110%” cliché is a helpful metaphor for “maximum effort” it can’t be a reasonable way to live or work. If we sprint all the time, we won’t have any energy for the sprint when it’s really necessary. An authentic leader–or any person striving to live an authentic life–understands that truism. Work hard and work smart, but remember to sprint only when you have to do so.  If we’re real and not two-faced, if we connect to the people and world around us, if we’re honest with others and ourselves then we’re living and leading authentically. Doing that will lead enable us to lead our teams to high performance, and will make sure we get everyone to the finish line together–including ourselves. Authentic leaders are honest to themselves and their teammates, and they remember they are part of a team, a family, and a community that also deserve some of their energy. The authentic leader is able to stay connected, even in the hardest times.

Living authentically—real, connected, honest– is a formula for success in business and in life.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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The Five Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership, The Five Be's

I’ve noticed organizations and institutions spend a lot of time telling young people the “don’ts”, we spend very little time telling them the “do’s”, or who we want them to be. The rules are important, everyone needs boundaries, but if we don’t give our young people some positive vision of the kind of people we want them to become then we’re setting the bar very low.  Aspiration to become a person of character is more important than rules, because the reason the rules exist in the first place is to inspire people to reach goals and achieve.

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Photo credit: www.fitnessplus-uk.com

Over the years leading young adults and teens both in the military and out, I developed “The Five Be’s” as a way to communicate who I wanted them to be. The Five Be’s are my vision for what a grounded, healthy adult looks like. It’s my hope young people will be inspired to “be all they can be” and live integrated lives of consequence and character.

1. Be Proud Of Who You Are.

Each person has something about them that makes them special. A person’s path through life and the sum of their experiences, good or bad, make them who they are. Everyone has something to contribute.

2. Be Free.

Never be a slave to your own passions or appetites, and the same goes for others. Being truly free doesn’t mean “anything goes,” it means being able to choose what’s good for you. There is a difference between “freedom” and “license”; being free means being able to know right from wrong, and freely choose right over wrong.

3. Be Virtuous.

The view of virtue we accept in 21st Century America has a long history in the West, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophers and tracing its path through Western civilization. These Cardinal Virtues remain a part of our conversation today because they work: healthy and successful people often display these qualities.

There are four Classical “Cardinal” or principal virtues:

Prudence – making the right decisions

Justice – doing what’s right

Restraint – taking/doing only enough and not overdoing it

Fortitude – enduring trials

4. Be Balanced.

Keeping all aspects of life in the proper perspective is a great pathway to success. A healthy work ethic in balance with home life and personal development is a great recipe for a successful person. What’s more, people with their life in balance have the ability to “sprint” when the need arises.

5. Be Courageous.

Unless you’re a emergency responder or military servicemember then it’s not likely most people will need to demonstrate physical courage. However, most of us are called to demonstrate moral courage regularly. Do we sign out on the report or do the inventory? Admit our mistake or cover it up? Confront inappropriate behavior or turn or heads?  Developing courage when it’s necessary is important for a leader and at every stage in life.

 

Rule #10: Drink Your Water, Eat Your Lunch, and Make New Friends

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Practical Leadership

When my son was very young, he would give me the same advice as I left for work every day: “Goodbye, Daddy, have a good day at work. Be sure to drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.” I always thought his farewell each day was far more insightful than just a small boy’s simple advice. In fact, it’s a great chance to talk about life balance.

There are many different ways to understand and dissect the topic of life balance. My model consists of 3 main focus areas: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Others use Health, Wealth, and Friends, or Work/Life. The US Air Force has an outstanding approach to balancing the demands of work and life in their Comprehensive Airman Fitness Model which takes the familiar Mental, Physical, and Spiritual dimensions and adds a fourth, Social. And of course there’s always the familiar Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

No matter how you slice up the dimensions of the human person, the take away is that humans are multi-dimensional, and therefore leaders should be intentional about engaging the whole person and not just the external part. Each person has a body, mind, and the intangible part of themselves religious people call a soul, and non-religious people often refer to as the human spirit. The point is that every person is more than meets the eye.

Being a leader means trying to find what motivates people, and what fulfills them, then intentionally working to harmonize those very personal needs with the needs of the organization. It’s more than a mere transaction: leaders must recognize that their team is more than their collective job titles. They are people with needs and aspirations of their own, persons who have come together to do a job for their own reasons that may or may not be because they’re drawing a paycheck.

The companies consistently rated best to work for seem to get that idea. They provide benefits that let the employees know they’re valued beyond their contribution, but also valued as persons too. There’s plenty of examples with Google and Southwest Airlines often at the top of the list. In each case the employees at those top rated companies like their work and their environment first; the benefits are simply the externals. The companies that treat their employees as whole persons, with more than a single dimension, are the ones who get the most engaged employees at work in return.

So the next time you look out over your team, stop for a minute and remember the words of my then four year old son: drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.

Living life balance as a leader is challenging. There are a lot of demands on a person’s time when they’re in charge, but finding time to feed all aspects of your body and soul is a key to any successful life. Anyone can put their head down and power through life; it takes a mature leader to understand that how you live is equally important to what you accomplish.