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How To Build A True Following As A Leader

By: JENN LOFGREN This article originally appeared on

Leadership is hard enough. Why make it harder trying to be all things to all people, hustling to be someone you’re not?

In reading Dr. Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, my mind went to my clients and when they lead with their authentic leadership style. I’m always amazed by the freedom many of them feel when they let go of who they “should” be and show up as they are, creating a greater sense of belonging with their team.

But, how can you be brave as a leader when standing out can feel so lonely and isolating? It sounds a little flippant, but you start by looking inward.

Connect To Your Goals And Values

Clearly defining and then connecting to your broader goals and values is crucial for honest leading. You gain a deeper understanding of what your greater purpose is, both personally and with your team. This gives you better clarity on where you’re going, why this is important to you and how you will get there. Then, you can clearly share this with your team. You bet it’s vulnerable, but this allows for more buy-in to create a more honest following.

Take A Value Stand

With clarity around your goals and values, you’re better able to define your boundaries of what you are and are not OK with, particularly in relation to your values. It may be difficult at first as you begin to firm set boundaries, but practice makes better (not perfect – never perfect).

It takes courage to speak up, particularly if you disagree with someone else’s point. So long as you say your piece, why you disagree, and do so in a respectful manner, you’ll create a more connected and communicative dynamic. By having the courage to speak your honest mind, you support an environment that encourages conversation to grow with everyone’s strengths.

The point here is that you don’t have to make people shift their opinions if you disagree. You just have to give them your honest opinion, so they have different perspectives to make more informed decisions. This is providing real support and leadership.

Listen To Feedback

Just as it’s important that you provide honest feedback, it’s important you listen to feedback. Solicit feedback, and listen wholeheartedly. Hear if how you’re authentic (or not) is alienating people and how to incorporate their feedback, so you can see more of the impact you want.

What I want to make clear is that “authenticity” is not an excuse for bad behavior. It’s a fine line sometimes between not being a jerk, but having the courage to say, “I disagree, but will go with the group decision because I respect them.” Say your piece and move on, regardless of the decision.

Allow Others To Discover Their Authenticity

What many clients share is that they find it hard to “fit in.” As a leader, you can’t. You can, however, belong because of your insights, thoughts, values, and so on. By showing up as your authentic self, you encourage others to do so. You help to foster an environment built on listening, working with individual strengths and supporting people as they authentically grow.

As a leader, you are on a relentless pursuit of personal development, demonstrating ownership and accountability for yourself. This action will inspire others to take ownership of their work and personal development as well. It’s what honest leadership creates.

Nurturing Your Leadership Style

Connecting with your authenticity is great, but how can you nurture and grow your authentic style? A few things leaders who belong (but certainly do not fit in) have in common include:

• A commitment to lifelong development: No matter how “expert” they are, inspirational leaders are those who know there is always room for improvement, even if by 1%! This is about knowing yourself better as you change, connecting with your goals and values, and gaining insight into your purpose. The hardest thing to overcome is that you can’t be who you were last year because everything changes – relationships, roles, markets, team members. Change is constant, and leaders who personally develop are more likely to successfully adapt.

• High self-management: Authentic leaders are thoughtful about what they say because they want to have intentional impact. They frame their thoughts in a way that connects with the individual, which requires a high level of empathy to adapt their style (not their character) in how they say something. The “how” is the intentional thought for impact.

• Reflection for purpose discovery: It’s OK to look backward to move yourself forward. Understanding who you were then, who you are now, and how this connects to your leadership style is important for you to create a positive impact. In doing this, you build a stronger connection to your purpose, supporting yourself as you shift your leadership approach, so you can grow without abandoning your values, conviction, or character.

Leadership development is not about becoming comfortable as a leader. It's about stepping into discomfort time and again, knowing you'll be fine on the other side, whether victory or defeat, because of your authenticity and character. It’s this courage to stand alone, as your purposeful self, to grow your honest following. Plain and simple, the world doesn't need more bland vanilla pudding; it needs your courage.


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