Karpluk: Authenticity Can Set Leaders Apart

I record my own unwritten laws, guiding principles, life lessons and leadership characteristics to help me become a better leader in the fire service.


As I progress in my leadership journey I record my own unwritten laws, guiding principles, life lessons and leadership characteristics. The purpose of compiling my list of laws, principles and life lessons is to help me become a better leader. 

One of my unwritten laws is that of authenticity.

Authenticity is all about being yourself, revealing who you are as a person and being open and honest with those you lead and more importantly, with yourself. It’s about being the same person at work, at home and in the public. It’s about being open and honest with our mistakes and understanding our personal weaknesses. Being authentic makes you a genuine leader and people want to follow genuine leaders.

The reality is that authentic leaders are brutally honest with themselves. When faced with conflict, they will drill down and analyze their own actions, attitudes and behaviours to identify their contributions to the problem. Rarely are problems one sided and a simple reflection of my past conflicts highlights the fact that I contributed to the problem in one way or another. My contribution could have been in the form of my unconscious competence (I didn’t know what I didn’t know), or my own ego, or my refusal to back down from the argument.

I admire the leaders that take responsibility for their reactions when dealing with conflict. Blowing a fuse will require damage control and it's the authentic leader that takes the ethical path and apologizes when necessary. They put the ego aside, apologize and move forward. I can hear it now, “but he was clearly wrong and I had to take my stand and point out how his views were wrong.” Well that will work when you want to feed your ego, otherwise, deal with it professionally and take the ethical path and apologize. It’s the authentic leader that truly values relationships to build the team and gone are the days of the leader demanding compliance or else.  

Authentic leaders truly care about those they work with. It’s about being kind, understanding, and being there for others when they are hurting. Being authentic means that you lead with your heart and are not afraid to show your emotions. Showing emotion does not make a leader weak; it demonstrates leadership at the highest level. One of the greatest compliments given to any leader is when a firefighter needs someone to talk to, and feels safe to show their emotions. It’s true; firefighters do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This one is worth remembering.

I suspect that many feel being authentic means that you as a leader can be vulnerable to the snide comments, jealous statements, and in some cases, lies about your leadership abilities. And, you would be right in thinking this. Yes, being authentic in your leadership will make you susceptible to personal attacks and the sooner you accept this, the sooner you can get over it.

It’s a hard truth to accept, but who said leadership was going to be easy. One of my favorite leaders, John Wooden, stated, “Be true to yourself. Be true to those you lead.”

As always, let’s grow together.