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The Lessons of Leading with Authenticity

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

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Leadership is an endeavour in service.

Being a product manager is a humbling opportunity. Our actions motivate our direct reports, scrum teams, cross-functional teams, teammates, colleagues, and partners to think big, become more versed, meliorate and blossom into more. This is the embodiment of leadership.

What is authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership can be defined as impregnable harmonization between our core values and our comportment. Product leaders who practice authenticity strive to be factual, trusted, and resolute.

How to cultivate your authentic leadership style

When I was a young product manager with my scrum team, I was essaying to find my authentic leadership style. The skills below have helped me hone my authentic leadership style:

  1. Mentorship

  2. Self-development

  3. Altruism

Let’s go through each of them.

1. Mentorship

I looked to my mentors for guidance as they were people I revered. I studied their attributes, and how they lead and engage with their direct reports, colleagues, leadership, and stakeholders. I paid a lot of heed to how they performed under pressure - especially when their organization is going through external and internal changes - they always put people first.

Additionally, I watched how they provided constructive commentary to their teams. There were no ulterior motives, and their assessment was constantly impartial. I also learned an important lesson on conveying information, precisely when urgency, not anxiety, is required. Their tone, their choice of words, and their recognition of challenging circumstances were their most formidable influence.

2. Self-development

To be an effective and authentic leader necessitates being self-actualized; how else would we recognize our stalwartness, constraints, and temperament?

One of the lessons imparted to me through mentorship is how an authentic leader assesses the effect of their comportment, adjudications and examines their own personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis without any predisposition.

I also realized that the leaders I admired put a lot of energy into overcoming their anxieties, and they utilized their strengths to the maximum.

Product managers who engage in self-guided improvement become product leaders that are humble and open to receiving constructive feedback. The desire to work on their self-development makes them better leaders as they build the confidence to lead.

3. Altruism

Another significant experience I cultivated from my mentors, which has helped me, was learning to put my ego aside and concentrate on the needs of both my cross-functional teams and the organization. In essence, building people and products, meaning the team’s needs comes first.

Rather than converging on my authority as a product leader, I began working with the teams from a place of service. I led through support, furtherance, and coaching, which served as a corollary to building great products for our customers.

two coworkers working

Why leading with authenticity matters in product management

Authentic product leaders bring their whole selves to their workplace - their demeanour matches their intents. Being that they practice authenticity, their direct reports, scrum teams, cross-functional teams, teammates, colleagues, and partners can all, in turn, bring their authentic selves to work every day, which then leads to the following:

  1. Ameliorated employee engagement

  2. Inclusivity inspires trust and innovation

  3. Fosters employee development

Let’s go through each of them.

1. Ameliorated employee engagement

Successful product managers build people and products. So when we emphasize nurturing our direct reports, scrum teams, cross-functional teams, teammates, colleagues, and partners, we are safeguarding that they are conversant with our product strategy, product roadmap, customer value, business value and how these objectives and goals are connected to our organization’s overall strategy.

They become empowered to step outside of their comfort zone even if they fail, and we must allow them to fail because it proves trust. They recognize the role and impact they have in bringing the company’s product vision to effectuation. With that, we now have motivated, inspired, and engaged individuals.

Another way I endeavour to increase our cross-functional team‘s confidence and participation is by ensuring they are part of the decision-making process. I love having debates with the team where we discuss the pros and cons, the impact of our decision on our customers, and everyone can voice their opinions and concerns. Even if the final determination is not what everyone wants, I find employee involvement is enhanced since they understand what, how, and why.

2. Inclusivity inspires trust and innovation

Studies have validated that authentic leaders in the workplace go a long way in building an inclusive culture. This is immensely important, considering our place of work encompasses individuals from diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

When product leaders bespeak comfort with diverseness, encourage open discussion, it constructs a culture of inclusion, acceptance, and trustworthiness when our direct reports, scrum teams, cross-functional teams, teammates, colleagues, and partners can bring their whole selves to work because their authentic product leader attests that demeanour, then a genuinely inclusive culture is effectuated.

3. Fosters employee development

Part of a product leader‘s responsibility is the development and growth of their cross-functional teams. If authentic leadership is practiced and utilized, we will ensure that our teams envision big and have no limitations to what they can attain; thus, they will strive to do more and become more.

One of the ways I strive to inspire growth in our cross-functional teams is by divulging and discussing my shortcomings, deficiencies, and self-development process. When I share my experiences, it has a ripple effect throughout our teams and organization. This is exceptionally valuable given that it can help strengthen other team members’ distension and learning, which is vital considering we all come from diversified backgrounds and conditions.

Final Thoughts

The best-kept secret of successful leaders is how they lead with authenticity. These successful leaders view leadership as an endeavour in service. This is important because one of the most important things a leader can do is build people within their organization. They recognize that for their teams to be engaged, innovative, and grow - they must be able to bring their whole selves to the workplace. Leaders can actualize this by embracing a much more inclusive approach to their leadership by taking the opportunity to foster genuine, truthful interactions.

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