10 Ways to Be an Authentic IT Leader

Simply being a manager of people doesn't make you a leader. So what does? In order to empower and influence others you must demonstrate that you are constantly growing professionally and personally.

If you follow the news you can find a litany of examples of poor leadership. People are distrustful or cynical of today's leadership and many times with good reason. That's why being an authentic leader is so important. Getting all your people onboard and moving in the same direction is paramount to success in the fast-paced environment of IT.

What Does It Mean to be an Authentic Leader?

Most of us have had a boss or worked with someone who tried hard to portray himself or herself as something they weren't. Not only was it off-putting to their co-workers and subordinates, but it was likely exhausting for them. You can't lead people by trying to be something you aren't.

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Being an authentic leader helps to create an environment where people are not only confident in your ability to get the job done, but also in your motives for doing so. So what can you do to be a more authentic leader with your teams? CIO.com spoke with CIOs and professional-development experts to find out what it takes to be the leader people want to follow. Here are 10 keys.

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1. Know Thyself

The best way to start your journey is know who you are at your core. "You need to understand yourself and your motives," says Tim Eiler, manager of the Project Management Office for Park Nicollet HealthPartners.

In a study done by Bill George and other scholars, researchers reported that there wasn't a common set of traits associated with authentic leadership. What they found was that most often a successful authentic leader's style of management was a result of their life story or upbringing.

"The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life. Your life story provides the context for your experiences, and through it, you can ?nd the inspiration to make an impact in the world"

"You're the best at being you, not a watered-down version of another leader. Don't try to be like anyone else," says Pamela Rucker, chair of the CIO Executive Council's Executive Women in IT.

2. Lead With Integrity

Trust is a large part of leadership. People not only need to know you are competent at what you do, they also need to understand your motives. "Values-based leadership is necessary for driving sustainable change as this ensures that the results achieved are underpinned with a strong moral and ethical foundation, thus they can also stand up to any scrutiny or resistance to change," says Greg Stewart, vice president and CIO of Enerflex.

"It's all about trust," says Eiler, "Even though we each work for money, job satisfaction or whatever else gives us value in return for the work we do, it's relatively easy to vote with our feet. If I don't trust my leaders, I'm much more likely to do just that."

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Trust is gained in a number of ways, according to Rucker. "Regardless of what process you use, you want to lead in such a way that people know that you are honest, fair and you are concerned about others."

3. Lead with Vision

In order to do this you have to lift your head out of the daily trenches of the workplace and get a good understanding of what's going on inside your niche of the IT industry. An authentic leader genuinely cares about what's happening in the industry, his or her company, and the employees within it. A great leader can mold all of those into a successful and achievable vision.

"The more I trust that my leaders have a vision and I can trust them to behave in consistent ways, based on clear values, to achieve that vision, particularly if that consistency involves watching out for the interests of everyone on the team, I'm more likely to be increasingly engaged in the effort," says Eiler.

4. Have a Clear Strategy (and Execute on It)

"It's one thing to have vision, and another thing entirely to turn that vision into strategy," says Rucker. Experts agree that you can't wait for someone to hand you a great strategy; you need to build one yourself. You need to know your business, your competition, your customers and what's going on in your industry in order to do that.

5. Be a Better Listener

Listening is one skill that many leaders lack. An authentic leader needs to be able to hear and incorporate feedback, both good and bad.

Oftentimes ideas come from unexpected places and if your employees feel like they can approach you with an idea and not be scorned, ridiculed or dismissed you might be surprised at what you find. "Listen - not just hear people moving their lips, but listen to them and try to incorporate their ideas to make your vision and plans stronger," says Eiler.

5. Be Transparent

It today's IT and management, in general, things tend to be siloed. We need to break that mold in order to be as productive and innovative as we possibly can. In order to be an authentic IT leader you need everyone you work with to understand your vision, your values, your goals and your plan. This means putting it all out there, such as what you do well and what you don't do so well.

"Some of the best leaders I've ever had the pleasure of working with relished the opportunity to build a group of peers who were talented and valued, with each one knowing that they were an integral link in the chain of success. The same leaders shared information freely inside our circle of trust. That built an environment where we not only worked with each other, but for each other, because everyone knew the score and worked toward a common goal," says Rucker.

6. Be Consistent

"You don't want to be Dr. Jekyll when things go one way and Mr. Hyde when they go another. If you made a mistake, admit it quickly and express what you've learned from it," says Rucker. Consistency helps team members to better understand what to expect in any given situation. If your team members know the goals and what it takes to get there, they'll make better choices on their own.

"The consistent leader, through a consistency based on values, gives the team member a better grasp on what they can expect when making a decision. The more they know about what to expect, the more likely that they'll have less fear to make choices on their own. It reduces bottlenecks, if nothing else," says Eiler.

7. Keep Growing and Measure Your Progress

Growing professionally is something you must incorporate into your daily life. "The world changes a lot, particularly in technology, so you need to keep up with the changes in order to stay capable," says Eiler.

Rucker advises that you find a way to get ongoing feedback from others so you can constantly see how well you're doing. Then use that so you can improve on your success and your level of delivery to your partners, peers and customers.

"Don't allow yourself to be measured in "Yes" or "No" categories, but rate yourself on a continuum. Ask people to provide examples of what you've done that makes them rate you that way. If you know you're particularly narcissistic (and unfortunately many leaders are), imagine that you are being considered for an award and you will be rated by your peers, or you'll have to have others speak on your behalf to demonstrate how well you've done. It's harder to lie to yourself about how well you're doing when you're forced to consider what others have to say," says Rucker.

8. Draw on Your Experiences

In Bill George's book, Discovering your Authentic Leadership, researchers found that authentic leaders are able to draw heavily on their life experiences:

Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see that these people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills or styles that led to their success. Rather, their leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.

"You have a wealth of knowledge and experiences inside you that you can apply to leading your people. Learn to draw on those experiences and turn them in to stories you can share with your colleagues and directs to not only bring credibility to way you say, but to bring a sense of connection to your relationship," says Rucker.

9. Share Your Successes

No man is an island unto himself. You need to find ways to compliment your peers and your teams for a job well done. "If your group collaborated with another team to bring about a full-scale enterprise transformation, broadcast the collaboration. Highlight the value of teams working together for the greater good. Look for ways to shower praise on those who deserve it, and to encourage those that are struggling but still contributing," says Rucker.

10. The Road Less Traveled

In our world full of superficial exchanges, we as part of our nature are drawn to authentic people. Being an authentic leader is a tough road, however. "It's all about having the courage to do the right thing for the customers, employees and shareholders", says Ajay Waghray, CIO and senior vice president for Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

Results are normally the bottom-line in today's IT, but how you get there can be just as important to your long-term success.

Rich Hein is a senior writer for CIO.com. He covers IT careers. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

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