Staying Authentic While Using Best Practices

Leaders often ask “How do I apply recommended ‘best practices’ and still be authentic?”  Searching Amazon for “leadership” yields over 200,000 results.  A stream of recommendations flows continuously on social media.  Leaders can feel they are chasing fads.  How does a leader stay genuine while taking advantage of best practices?  Below are three ways to filter advice and find what works best for you.


Clarify who are you as a leader.

Most importantly, good leadership starts with self-reflection.  A practice worked well for [insert your favorite celebrity leader here] does not mean it will fit your values and priorities.  What are you really trying to accomplish as a leader?  Unless you can clearly state your intentions and vision as a leader, it will be difficult to identify the tactics that will get you there.  Take a moment to consider what your core values and critical priorities are.


Identify what people most need from you.

Becoming a leader means shifting focus to the people being led.  People are incredibly complex.  What they need from a leader varies tremendously.  Rather than treating best practices as an “off-the-shelf” solution, focus on what your people need in the current situation.  For example, if you have received feedback that you need to listen more to their concerns, then applying recommended techniques to strongly assert yourself will not be effective.  You would be better off looking for tactics related to active listening.


Recognize that even small change can be uncomfortable.

Leadership means working through ambiguity.  This ambiguity often comes with discomfort.  When you find a promising practice, remind yourself how mastering this technique will help you and your team.  Learning a new skill feels uncomfortable, whether riding a bike or delegating.  To work through this awkward stage, talk with a coach or trusted colleague.


Best practices and authenticity aren't mutually exclusive.

In conclusion, leadership is not "copying and pasting" someone else's best practices.   Instead, leadership requires making tough decisions with available information.  Reflecting on our needs and others' needs are crucial first steps in identifying promising practices.  With this  awareness, we can learn from the experiences of other leaders.