July 4 is Independence Day in the United States. It commemorates the day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, declaring independence from Great Britain. We celebrate our freedom with fireworks, family gatherings, parades, barbeques and apple pie. We honor those who have fought and fight now to help us sustain our freedom. Can we also use this day to honor the leader in ourselves and others who fights for freedom in the exercise of leadership? Truly authentic leaders exercise the following five freedoms in their leadership. Are you?
The Five Freedoms of Authentic Leaders
In my executive coaching work, I find that the most authentic, fulfilled, and successful leaders exercise the following five freedoms. They often fight the daily fight (mostly engaging with their own fears) to win the following freedoms.
1) Freedom to be ourselves – The most powerful and authentic leaders understand who they are (their strengths, their weaknesses, their values, their motivators and de-motivators). They fight the urge to be “perfect”, to conform to society’s demands of them. Instead, they are fully themselves, operating from their strengths, their values, and an understanding of their flaws. In exercising their freedom to be themselves, they can relax and connect better with those around them, giving others the same freedom. To grow in our own freedom in this area, we can ask ourselves:
- What’s important to me about “being myself” in the workplace?
- How comfortable do I feel in my own skin in my work environment?
- What parts of myself do I dislike or hide from others at work? What is the impact of this?
2) Freedom to express our perspective – The most powerful and authentic leaders have the courage to share their point of view even if it is different from others. They are not threatened by, nor judge, different viewpoints, welcoming this diversity of perspective as the way to make the best decisions. To grow your own freedom in this area, ask yourself:
- What is important to me about expressing myself freely?
- In what situations do I express myself freely and in what situations do I hold back?
- How can I encourage others to have this freedom as well?
3) Freedom to express our vulnerabilities – The most powerful and authentic leaders give themselves the freedom to express their vulnerabilities. Often what holds us back is fear of being judged by others. They exercise their freedom to not take what others think personally. They know their limitations and surround themselves with those who can fill their own gaps. They admit when they don’t have the answers. They share what they have learned from their failures. This allows them to create environments of greater trust, creativity and innovation. To grow your own freedom in this area, ask yourself:
- What failures have I experienced and how can I help others learn from them?
- What are situations where I have been vulnerable and it has served the team?
- What behaviors do I need to role-model to create a culture of greater trust and creativity?
4) Freedom to choose our response – Our lives and careers, even our days, hardly ever go as planned. An unexpected restructuring, a difficult person, office politics, a new competitor get in the way of the best laid plans. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, very wisely said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”. On of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of choice. How we respond to circumstances shapes our mindsets and who we become as leaders. Most of us operate from habitual responses to stressful circumstances. To be truly free is to choose our response from who we have decided to be as leaders. To grow your own freedom in this area, ask yourself:
- What are habitual responses I have to stressors?
- Who am I inspired to be as a leader?
- How does this more inspired leader within me respond to these stressors?
5) Freedom to choose our life and career path – In the book “The Five Regrets of The Dying”, a hospice nurse interviewed people at their death beds. The number one regret of the dying was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”. How many of us put up with lives that are mediocre where we are not fully alive while living? The most inspirational leaders fight for their freedom to pick the life and career that helps them come fully alive. After all, it is impossible to inspire others when we are not inspired ourselves. To express this freedom ask yourself:
- How fully alive, inspired and engaged do I feel in my current chosen career or job?
- What brings me fully alive (my peak experiences, values, life purpose, goals)?
- What brings those around me fully alive and how I can help them get there?
I hope we all take this Independence Day to reflect upon the freedoms we have, and honor the exercise of these freedoms in our daily choices. I wish each of us the exercise of greater freedom so we can be the most effective, authentic and fulfilled leaders of ourselves and others. Which of these freedoms are you good at honoring and which do you want to honor more of?