3 steps to authentic leadership

Being yourself isn't quite as simple as it sounds, explains Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Hayaatun Sillem.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 21 May 2019

Being yourself sounds fairly straightforward, but leadership has a way of complicating things. Leaders who blurt out the first thing that pops into their heads may very well be authentic, but they’re also likely to be ineffective and even potentially unprofessional.  

So how can you be true to yourself – with all the undoubted benefits that brings to leadership – while still being mindful of the messages you’re sending your employees? Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Hiyaatun Sillem explains how she has approached this challenge.


1. Know yourself

"A year ago, I transitioned from deputy CEO to CEO. There’s definitely a big difference between the two. I’m much more of a visible face of the organisation, to our 100 staff and fellowship of 1,500 engineers.

"I’ve had to acknowledge that being CEO means you have to talk about your personal story in a way that has been quite surprising and not entirely natural for me. The word authenticity slightly sticks in the mouth, but if you’re not willing to explain your story and what makes you you, I don’t think you can be an effective communicator or be representative of the organisation you lead. You’ve got to be conscious of your own story.

2. Accept you’re not perfect

"Leaders shouldn’t feel pressure to be perfect at everything from day one. I didn’t feel bad that it was probably visible to people that I was a work in progress. Some days are better than others and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s better to show the working, not always to present the finished product."

3. Get support

"People probably see me as relatively confident, but what goes on under the bonnet is quite different. It’s hard to thrive without learning to manage your fears and anxieties.

"One of the things that’s proved most useful is peer support. I proactively meet with people who are going through similar things, who’ll push me harder than I push myself, who’ll cheer me on when I need it or challenge me in a supportive or honest way to stop you wallowing in self-pity. There are just some things you’d say to your friends but not to yourself."

For more information

Here are three essential communication lessons from Simon Sinek. See here for an exploration of the rise of executive coaching and mentoring, or take a look at this guide to boosting your confidence.

Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Pexels

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