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Leadership Snohomish County (LSC) is a nonprofit that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. Each year, we help experienced and emerging leaders in Snohomish County gain an understanding of the critical issues affecting the region and the stewardship capabilities needed to resolve them. Through our nine-month Signature Program and Young Professionals Program, we work in small teams with the business, government and nonprofit sectors as Community Impact Project Partners. LSC features more than 700 alumni who remain strongly invested in Snohomish County.

Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

Leading with Authenticity

Erika Olson

By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member

I’m a terrible cook. I’ve never met a recipe I can’t ruin. And by ruin, I mean smoke-billowing, how-the-heck-did-that-happen, I-cringe-about-it-for-years, ruin. (Ask me about the low-carb, low-sugar cheesecake that ruined my husband’s birthday a few years ago!)

So imagine my dismay when I learned that there’s a recipe for leadership. Great, I thought sarcastically, what could possibly go wrong?

Throughout the Leadership Snohomish County program, both the Signature and Young Professional classes are studying a curriculum called Positive Leadership by Adam Seaman. Seaman argues that at the core of the recipe for leadership, there’s an ingredient that can’t be skipped: authenticity.

When studying authenticity in leadership, my mind immediately starts to think of leaders in my life that are, and are not, authentic, and the difference this makes in their teams. I’ve found that the leaders I admire and gravitate towards are those who know themselves, accept themselves, commit to their own personal growth, and stand up for what they believe in. According to Seaman, this is authenticity.

On authenticity, Seaman writes:

Authenticity is the matchless, irreplaceable essence that defines you. The most celebrated leaders live authentically as individuals first, using authenticity as a source of personal strength and then infusing it into their communities to make them stronger…We are compelled to trust people who know themselves. They command our respect because we know we are dealing with individuals who present themselves as they really are. We find them credible. We watch what they do and hear what they say…We find ourselves listening to, trusting and even being led by them.

Bingo. To me, the authentic leaders are the leaders who I trust. Who I follow. Who I’d learn how to cook for.

Seaman continues this exploration of leadership by explaining the four pillars of authenticity in a great leader; self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-development, and self-assertion. (Notice that all begin with the word “self!” Drop the mic!)

When looking at authenticity through self-knowledge, authentic leaders know their blind spots and weaknesses. They know how their team and others in the organization and community truly see them (good or bad!) And very importantly, authentic leaders know their strengths, and how best to use them to accomplish their goals. To me, this translates to knowing that I’m a terrible cook, and will be the last to volunteer to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year.

The second cardinal trait of authenticity is self-acceptance. Authentic leaders do the hard work of self-knowledge, and then, they accept themselves. This isn’t a blind confidence; rather, it’s knowing that you have room to improve, and accepting yourself wherever you are in the process. To me, this means that I don’t lose sleep about my culinary ineptitude. I’ve lived my entire adult life as a successful, contributing member of society. I’m not the next Barefoot Contessa, and I’m alright with that fact.

The third piece of authenticity is self-development. Authentic leaders are committed to their own personal and professional development, and make growth a lifelong pursuit. After knowing and accepting themselves, authentic leaders commit to continuous development. For me, this means that I’ll challenge myself to enroll in a cooking class this fall, or find other ways to stretch and grow in the kitchen. Maybe I will volunteer to cook Thanksgiving after all, as then I’ll actually have to learn what the heck to do with a turkey.

The final piece of authentic leadership is self-assertion. Being an assertive leader is a delicate dance between being too passive and being too aggressive. Self-assertion means standing up for yourself, your visions, and your needs, but not at the expense of someone else. An authentic leader strikes the appropriate balance between the two extremes, and practices successful self-assertion.

This lesson on authenticity was the perfect way to kick off the Leadership Snohomish County signature and young professional classes this year. I’m excited to see where this authenticity takes our two groups throughout the rest of the program! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a cooking class to sign up for…

Have you been inspired by an authentic leader? Share with us in the comments below!

Source: All quotations and photos in this post originate from Positive Leadership by Adam Seaman. Please visit positiveleadership.com for more information.

Sara Haner is a participant in the 2015 Leadership Snohomish County Signature Class. When she’s not working in nonprofit PR and marketing, she loves volunteering with youth, HGTV, and a good glass of red wine.