We were at a department store looking at some shirts in the men’s department on sale. After over 10 years in retail, including as a buyer, I love nice clothes, but I’m cheap when it comes to spending money on myself. When I can find a good bargain I’m excited. I saw a shirt I really liked, but I quickly knew it wasn’t for me. A decade ago, it might have been an OK style for me, but today, someone would think I should be acting my age.
The dilemma for me these days, as I shop for clothes, is to find clothes that are stylish, but age appropriate. One method I use is to consider what my boys would say is “cool,” but what would not embarrass them. It is usually a good indicator.
It got me thinking, however, about a more important issue. I was reminded the image a person portrays can be huge in determining people’s perception of the leader. In a day when authenticity is valued by all, but especially the younger generation, I want to be “perceived” as being authentic. I want people I’m attempting to lead to take me seriously as a leader.
Here are five ways to help people perceive you as authentic:
1. Dress your age
This may not sound like a leadership principle, but it is. It is a biggie for me and my goal these days. I’m 52 years old. There are some “cool” styles that aren’t cool for 52-year-olds. Knowing the difference is huge. Each season of life seems to have its own style. Dress within yours. If you aren’t sure, ask some people around you whom you trust. (Again, my boys help me.)
2. Admit your mistakes
Take responsibility for the things you’ve done wrong or when a project goes wrong and it was your idea. Own up to your bad decisions. If you pass blame or refuse to own up to a problem, you’ll be perceived as a weak and "pretend" leader.
3. Be honest
Don’t exaggerate who you are, your position, influence or knowledge. Don’t pretend your church or organization is bigger than it really is. Tell the truth about yourself and the organization you lead. People can usually spot a phony and dismiss your influence in their life.
4. Don’t try to impress others
The harder you try, the less they seem to be impressed. Be yourself—not who you wish you were. No one does a better you than you do. Simply strive to be the best you you can be.
5. Be a good listener
Be slower to speak. Don’t always have the answer. Even when you do, sometimes back off and let someone else take the lead. You show people you’re real if you act like they are—and it is worth hearing what they have to say.