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Three Steps to Power Up Your Authentic Leadership

Three Steps to Power Up Your Authentic Leadership

By: Carole Ann Penney

A client asked me in our session last week: "How do I prepare myself for leadership? Do I find trainings that teach me about the skills, or do I get promoted and then start learning how to lead? It's a chicken and egg thing, I think."

She was visualizing herself as the egg, just starting out. But she had just finished telling me that she supervised interns in the past, served as the project lead on her team, and was given the responsibility of overseeing a relationship with an outside consultant. This gal was no egg!

My guess is that you're not an egg, either. Do you treat yourself like one?

Shying away from owning your leadership holds you back. Here are three core perspectives that will help you power up your journey of uncovering and developing your authentic leadership.

#1: We are all leaders.

When we think about leadership, we often think of fancy job titles, direct reports, and someone (usually a guy) in a blazer. Many of us look up to leadership as a part of our futures—something that we will achieve someday when we know enough.

I believe that right here, right now, we are all leaders.

Whether or not you have formal authority bestowed upon you through a job title, you are leading through your influence. Whether or not you directly manage employees, you are leading your peers, projects and ideas, business strategy, or yourself. Even my four-year-old daughter was the line leader at her preschool last week!

There is nothing to gain from holding leadership at arm’s length. When you recognize the ways in which you are already leading, you create the foundation of your leadership skills.

Ask yourself: In what ways, whether formal or informal, am I leading right now?

#2: Leadership is a practice, not a destination.

Another client last week (whose title actually includes the word "Manager") hesitated to put leadership in her skill toolbox because she doesn’t always know the right answers and sometimes has to own her mistakes.

Leadership is not about knowing what to do in every situation or having every answer to every question—that is unrealistic, and unattainable—nor is it about a title or a status that you achieve.

Here is my definition: Leadership is moving forward through the unknown.

It’s not about "knowing it all”- it’s about how you show up when you don’t know. It’s about creating a plan for a project that’s never been done before, helping a team navigate change, envisioning a new approach, or even just putting one foot in front of the other when the unexpected hits in your personal life.

Sure, there is always more to learn and you will make mistakes that you need to own no matter how seasoned you are—any good leader will tell you so. That is why leadership is a practice. You will never fully figure it out. There will always be a new unknown to move through.

Ask yourself: What would change for me if I thought of leadership as a practice rather than a status?

#3: Your most important leadership tool is your navigation system.

Moving forward through the unknown is a lot like traveling without a map. Leaders must have a sense of how to proceed even when the path forward isn’t clear. That’s why the most important leadership tool that you can cultivate is your navigation system—the compass that enables you to clearly, confidently, and strategically guide yourself and your team.

Your leadership compass is made up of the key elements of who you are, what you stand for, and what you bring to the table—the core values and the sense of purpose that drive your work, the strengths that you and your team bring to the table, and your vision for the impact that you want to have.

Defining your leadership compass allows you to operate from a strong foundation. Even in those moments when you’re feeling lost, you are able to assess the situation, help others feel safe as you take a beat, draw upon your collective resources, and make intentional decisions about how to move forward.

Ask yourself: What are the core values that matter most to me at work? What are the shared values on my team?

Your leadership journey starts with owning your identity as a leader, deepening your leadership practice, and developing your leadership compass. It’s time to stop treating yourself life an egg, and time to start authentically and strategically leading yourself, your projects, and your team forward through the unknown.

Carole Ann Penney is a Strategic Career Coach and the Founder of Penney Leadership. She helps mission-driven professionals deepen their meaningful work and develop their authentic leadership through 1:1 and group coaching, speaking, and interactive workshops. When she’s not coaching, she’s developing the most important emerging leader in her life: her four-year-old daughter, Avery.

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