The Three Dimensions Of Authentic Leadership: It’s The Shoes

Sheila Carmichael is an executive coach with more than 20 years of experience in talent management

Sheila Carmichael is an executive coach with more than 20 years of experience in talent management and organizational development.

What shoes are you choosing to wear? There is a lot being said and written these days about authentic leadership. Unlike many articles, this one will take on a different twist. Your authentic leadership self is not linear or one-dimensional. In its truest form, authentic leadership is three-dimensional because it provides the space to broaden your perspective and shift your mindset so that you can activate consistent behaviors and a more sustainable leadership presence.

By activating your authentic leadership presence, you can increase your confidence, prioritize more efficiently, reduce stress, improve your performance and ultimately increase your influence and marketability. So, how do you increase your authentic leadership presence?

Have you ever wondered how some people seem to naturally step into any given situation with leadership ease? They are gazelle-like leaders with a flow of influence in any given situation. When the stakes are high; when the environment is stressful, somehow, they step in and level up their authentic leadership presence. How do they do this? It’s their shoes! Yes, they make a conscious choice in the moment to select the right pair of shoes for the occasion. And when the fit is not quite right, they assess the fit of their leadership shoes, go back into their leadership skills closet and select the pair that truly matches the occasion. 

Think about it: When you go to a shoe store, you usually have an idea about what type of shoe you are looking for. Whether you are looking for an athletic style, dress shoe or something casual, you have a style in mind that will grab your attention. As you look and walk around the shoe department, you’re evaluating which pairs match your style and which ones do not. You also consider the need, the situation and the purpose.

For example, if you noticed that your current jogging shoes are showing signs of wear and tear, it’s time to replace them. Because you know your current style fits you best, you may decide to purchase the same brand of jogging shoes. However, when you arrive at the shoe store, you discover that your favorite style is discontinued. You notice a similar style but different brand and ask the salesperson for your size to try them on. While they look good, there’s a little something different about the fit. You may feel the snugness around the heel and think, “Maybe I just need to break them in.” Or, you may feel some extra space under your arch and think, “Maybe I need to get an insert for support.” Or, you may walk around the store and feel the hardness of the floor and think, “There’s really not enough cushioning.” Regardless of what you are experiencing, you know you need to find new favorite jogging shoes. 

The discovery of the current state of your jogging shoes and making the decision for replacing your shoes is similar to the discovery of your authentic leadership presence. How do you discover your leadership style? And how do you best fit your style to any given situation? Listed below are some questions you can ask yourself to discover your authentic leadership presence: 

• How would you describe your leadership brand?

• What is your unique style and the characteristics of your leadership?

• What encourages you to consistently step into your leadership brand and style?

These questions can jump-start your discovery phase for understanding your authentic leadership presence. Additional considerations for deepening your understanding of your leadership presence are:

• Consistent feedback from reliable and trusted resources

• Life events that may have shifted your values or perspective about leadership

• Results of your most recent personality and behavioral profile assessment

• Engagement with teams, peers, leaders and self

How are you continually learning and discovering your talents and strengths? Capital One has actor Samuel L. Jackson as one of their many spokespersons asking their consumers, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asking you, “What’s in your leadership skills closet?”

Unlike the annual spring-cleaning process, leadership skills should be assessed periodically throughout the year. By frequently assessing your leadership presence, you will be able to adjust and step into your best leadership style in any given moment. Now is the time to discover your authentic leadership self. In part two of this series, you will learn how to take your discoveries and define an authentic playbook that is unique to you.


Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?