G.I. Jobs Virtual Job Fair   |   June 27

Virtual Job Fair   |   June 27

The Secret to Being an Authentic Leader

marines in the field doing a mission

The secret to authentic leadership is having strong emotional intelligence. The challenge of leadership is motivating others to follow and do it effectively. The principles are the same in the military and in civilian life. By understanding yourself and your team, you can truly build something.

a picture of secdef mattis

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Being emotionally intelligent means having the capacity to recognize your own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately. You must have self-awareness and a real understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, and values as a leader. If you hold these you must also display emotional balance and stability, do not lose your composure over challenges, it is a good way for your subordinates to lose confidence.

You must also be technically and tactically competent if you cannot do that you will be tough to follow too. Retired General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis summed it up as an equation, “Leadership = Competence + Authentic Character.” As a leader, you cannot pretend to be anything you are not. Subordinates will see it eventually. Trust is built into leadership. If you cannot be trusted there is little reason to follow you. Holding emotional intelligence relates to being an authentic leader and the skills mutually reinforce.

two people shaking hands

Building Trust

Building trust in an organization requires leaders to treat everyone fairly. Do not ask people to do anything you would not do yourself. Do not play favorites. If any of your actions seem unfair, you must be able to recognize why people see it that way. To quote General Mattis again, “Organizations and institutions get the behavior they reward.” If you reward weak performance as much or more than strong performance you will soon find yourself with an organization filled with weak performers.

As a leader, you have to sense others feelings. Know what motivates your subordinates and know what their values are. Remember that unlike the military you can quit a civilian job any time. If your organization is not keeping up, members will let you know by leaving it. Holding strong emotional intelligence gives you an idea of how and what to do to motivate people. Mission accomplishment is what is needed to lift morale. When you articulate a shared mission that inspires, deploy empathy and teamwork, a felt resonance emerges. This gives a bedrock for you to build genuine connections and establish rapport. One of my former battalion commanders once. I still remember this years later, described leadership as, “The art of convincing someone to be better than they think they can be.”

Staying Open

As an emotionally intelligent leader, you should also remain open to input. Be a learning organization where feedback can be processed from people who are not in charge. There are multiple ways to build an effective team, but the general principles are universal. You can tell people what to do, but to sustain your organization you have to build a climate where the members also want to do it.



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