5 Ways to Become a More Authentic Leader

This is a guest post by LaRae Quy. She was an FBI agent, both as a counterintelligence and undercover agent, for 25 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. Government. Now she explores the unknown and discovers the hidden truth via her blog, Your Best Adventure. You can find her on Twitter as @LaRaeQuy.

Leadership begins with knowing who you are and what you believe. Authenticity is the need for leaders to be themselves regardless of the situation. For this reason, it is more than self-awareness. It is the ability to share the deepest and truest part of ourselves with others.

Woman Looking at Herself in a Broken Mirror - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/asiseeit, Image #12996595

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/asiseeit

My undergraduate degree was in Business Management. The first thing we did was to identify successful leaders and write papers on how to mimic their behaviors. Textbooks were full of tips on how to do this and tests made certain we ingested the critical points that led to their success.

Authenticity Matters

While it’s instructive to observe and learn from others, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Successful leaders understand that the path of leadership is a journey of discovery … about themselves. We are not textbooks to be read once and then put away to gather dust. Our lives are a living testimony to change, growth, and renewed hope.

Self-awareness makes it easier to us to view our choices through a lens that brings our values into focus. If we are self-aware, we can begin to understand how well our actions align with our beliefs, values, strengths and weaknesses.

Life As An Undercover FBI Agent

Ironically, I found authenticity to be most important component while working as an undercover FBI agent. As you may guess, undercover work was about misrepresenting who I was to the targets of my investigation. I lied about my name, job, and address. I told them I was an expert in something I wasn’t and had a bogus set of credentials to back me up.

The details were no problem to fabricate with ease—and conviction. From organized drug gangs to Russian spies, I learned how to tell a lie with a straight face and get away with it. Even if the targets were suspicious of my weak background experience and limited professional expertise, I found the most convincing way to persuade them was to be honest about who I was as a person and share the deepest and truest part of myself.

My success as an undercover agent came from being myself—it attracted people to me. The only time I really ran into trouble was when I didn’t take the time to be authentic.

Being honest with others is not dependent upon the situation because an authentic person knows who they are in any given moment. They don’t flit from one belief system to another because of a fad, pressure from others, or circumstances.

Authenticity matters. Regardless of the situation, we respond to people who acknowledge the complexity of life and life’s decisions. No matter how hard I tried or how long I practiced, I ran into trouble when I pretended to have a different set of personal values. The game was up.

Life In Seminary

After I retired from the FBI, I completed a three-year graduate program at San Francisco Theological Seminary. I found that I used many of the same skills in the seminary that I developed as an FBI agent—the desire to get beneath all the layers of denial and uncover the truth about people.

The journey toward authenticity is twofold: first, discovering our personal values and beliefs, and, second, exhibiting behavior that is consistent with those same values and beliefs. We can be authentic leaders if we are committed to be being true to ourselves—regardless of the situation we are in or the people around us—so we can be real and genuine.

How You Can Look Into Yourself

Let’s take a look at five ways you can be more authentic:

  1. Discover your strengths:
    • Look inside of yourself and identify your strongest threads.
    • Reinforce them with practice and learning.
    • Carve out a role that draws upon your strengths everyday.
    • Recognize that your greatest room for growth is in the areas of your greatest strengths.
  2. Manage your weaknesses:
    • Spend time in identifying your weaknesses.
    • Do not ignore them.
    • Acknowledge that you cannot be talented in all areas.
    • Find ways to manage your weaknesses so you can free up your time to hone your strengths.
  3. Identify your personal values:
    • Rank the following values in order of importance: integrity, patience, honesty, gratitude, humility, forgiveness, compassion, perseverance, spirituality, joy, and discipline.
    • Expand the list by adding other personal values that are important to you.
    • Articulate the importance of each value to your life.
  4. Develop a strong connection between your values and your behavior:
    • Commit yourself to your personal values.
    • Stay the course regardless of obstacles.
    • Find ways to go over, under, or through the obstacles.
    • Do not go around them—instead, overcome them.
    • Remember that your behavior reflects your values.
  5. Build relationships with a diverse group of friends and associates:
    • Create genuine relationships by being authentic.
    • Authenticity builds trust and makes us more compelling and attractive leaders.
    • Be prepared for the adversaries that will be created because you’ve remained true to your values and beliefs.
    • Remember that leadership is not about being popular.
Know What You Believe and Why You Believe It

In essence, this is what it takes to be authentic: know what you believe and why you believe it. If you do, your world won’t fall apart when the unexpected shows up.

Questions: Do others perceive you as being authentic How can you be more authentic? What obstacles prevent you from being more authentic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    I believe people now see me as authentic. That definitely wasn’t the case a few years ago. I lived my own double life. Lets call it “Church” and “Non-Church” life. My actions didn’t line up with what I was saying and what I was saying didn’t line up either. To be more Authentic, I believe you need to know yourself and be ok with who you are. Work on your weaknesses but enjoy your strengths.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      You’re not alone.

    • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

      That’s a great philosophy! And I totally agree. What has always drawn me toward my faith is the desire to be more authentic, and this is the call of Christianity.

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  • http://twitter.com/burlw Burl Walker

    Love the 5th point. “Build relationships with a diverse group of friends and associates:” It is so easy to insulate ourselves with people around us that all have the same worldview, lifestyle, religious and political beliefs etc. It is so very important to remember to interact and make friendships with people who are drastically different from who we are.

    • Jim Martin

      Burl, I also like the 5th point.  In fact, I have found that if I am not intentional about building such relationships that eventually I am only friends with those who are very much like me.

    • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

      Diverse people can push us out of our comfort zone – in a good way. When our values or actions are challenged or put under the light of scrutiny, we are more likely to think about them more. Is this really what I believe? If so, why? Is this really what I’m about?

      If the answer is yes, it’s confirmation and strengthens our convictions. But if the answer is no or uncertain, then it may be time to dig a little deeper to find the true answer.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      I am with you!! We, myself included, are really guilty of this in our faith communities and that point jumped off the page at me.
      Thanks for your input!

  • Ken Askew

    [Comment not related to this post] Mr. Hyatt, it seems that all means of direct contact with you are beyond my grasp, so I thought I’d leave a comment here with the hopes that it reaches you. Please don’t mistake this post as my being critical, but instead as thoughts from a long-time follower. Your content, delivery and it seems your “tribe” have evolved in a significant way over the last 2 years. And, quite frankly, I’m thinking of leaving the tribe. Bear with me. The banners and popups on your website annoy me to no end, you seem to be insulating yourself from contact that may not square with your current thinking (which has always been a rapidly moving target), and you seem to be deliberately narrowing your tribe to wanna be writers (which ironically includes me). I liked the “old” Mr. Hyatt, the Michael Hyatt, CEO better. He was much more helpful to me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your input, Ken. I do appreciate it.

      I hear you on the pop-ups and banners. We have been experimenting a great deal. You might be right.
      With regard to insulating myself, I certainly don’t want that. However, I have recruited a team of community leaders to help me manage the volume of comments here. I came to the place where I couldn’t do that and get anything else done. However, I am still dipping in to see where I can contribute as time allows.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Kind regards.

  • http://wheretigerswill.wordpress.com Will Laohoo

    I’m reaching out to a lot of people to get them on board with a project I’m working on. There have been times I didn’t quite know how to respond, so I asked my boss, and she wrote an e-mail that I then looked over and sent back.

    In one of the replies I got from an e-mail like that, the person seemed a little offended, and I realized that by just using what was given to me, I had said something I wouldn’t have normally said.

    Since that experience, I’ve resolved that when I run into situations I’m not sure how to handle, part of my job is to figure that out. The only guidance I need is whether or not to go forward. I don’t want to sound like anyone else in my e-mails anymore.

    And as the post references, my results are better when I’m just myself.

    • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      Thanks for sharing a valuable lesson from your life. In order to build meaningful relationships with people, we need to be authentic.

    • Jim Martin

      Will, thanks for this.  It is helpful to hear you reflect on your effort to be authentic in your work.

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    Great post LaRae, my friends say that I’m brutally honest but they can deal with it because I’m real with everything in my life. Really enjoyed reading this post!

    • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

      Consistency is a great quality in a person, particularly a leader. It lets people know where they stand, no matter the situation. Congratulations on having accomplished this in your honesty – always the best policy!

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  • http://twitter.com/KevinRussell77 Kevin Russell

    I have always wanted to ask Michael Hyatt this question: 

    Can you support with Biblical evidence, the often recommended “maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses” leadership philosophy? I have always struggled to adopt and recommend this popular leadership principle because I do not see Biblical examples or teaching that affirms it. Instead, I see examples throughout the Bible that propose the opposite. Just a few examples would be Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. Paul makes this point in 2 Cor 11:30 and 2 Cor 12:9-10, saying in summary “I will boast of the things that show my weakness, for Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness, for when I am weak, I am strong.” It seems the Biblical Truth is, when we are at the end of ourselves (our own strengths), this is when God begins to be glorified. If this is true, how do we reconcile it with the leadership principle, max your strengths and min your weakness?I have been greatly blessed by Michael’s leadership and online mentoring from afar. This is the one question I have always wanted to ask in regards to his leadership philosophy.Thanks for all you do! Kevin

  • Jackiegillam

    Thank you for your great insight.  I believe you need to keep your eye on your goals and not let friends squander your time.

    • http://www.LaRaeQuy.com/ LaRae Quy

      Hi Jackie, keeping an eye on our goals – great way to start off the new year!

  • http://www.facebook.com/MelissaMashburnMelsWorld Melissa Scarbrough Mashburn

    I love that word…Authentic…there is so much more to it than meets the eye. People can tell when you are real and authentic and as a leader this is extremely important. If there is one thing I would want people to say about me is that I am “real”…what you see is what you get in life, ministry, speaking, writing and in my family.

    Great post!

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  • Aanuoluwapo Awosanmi

    Wow! Word for the moment… thanks

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  • http://twitter.com/janetcallaway Janet Callaway

    LaRae, aloha. Interesting what you had to say that your undercover story held up, even if you were “weak” in some area, as long as you were true to yourself. 

    These days we always hear that people buy from people they “know, like and trust” which is why people “bought” your undercover stories. When people speak and act at odds with their beliefs, even if we don’t catch them in a lie, there is something about them that makes us feel uncomfortable.
    Once we feel uncomfortable, we start to look for more flaws in the person. Conversely, if we feel good about someone, we will overlook obvious flaws and look for ways to make them better or conform to our beliefs in them.

    For me, whenever someone is not consistent in what they say and do, it is a red flag for me.

    LaRae, it’s easier to be me than someone else. If people don’t like the me they meet, then we were not meant to be a part of each other lives.  The surefire recipe for failure and unhappiness is attempting to be something you’re not and trying to please everyone.

    Good to see you again, my friend. Until the next time, aloha. Janet

  • http://akosfintor.net/ Akos Fintor

    The trending topic of “self branding” makes people think that they have to act and market themselves as a big hit or something. And when they do that all originality is lost. You’re the coolest when you are YOU. period. 
    thnx for the share!

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