Authentic Leadership Starts With the Person in Your Mirror – Anders BE. Eklund

Authentic leaders are individuals who are fully aware of their goals, values, emotions, strengths, and limitations. They are not afraid of showing their real selves to their people. They don’t hide their mistakes nor weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They are congruent with the way they act in private life and in public. Their collective strengths show them to be capable.
Authentic leaders know that adding significant value to others and making others shine is the core and soul of excellent leadership. Their leadership approach emphasizes building trust and respect through transparent and open relationships where core values are built on a healthy and ethical foundation.
Authentic leaders balance IQ and EQ skillfully. They also know that the longest way to travel on their leadership development journey is from their heads to their hearts.

“Understanding the persons who you lead is wisdom. Understanding yourself as a leader is enlightenment.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Who are we really?

Today, what surprises me from time to time is how little leaders and people in general actually know about themselves, although I understand why it is like this.

Numerous surveys by publications like Harvard Business Review and Forbes have shown that approximately 95% of all people think that they are self-aware. However, only 10-15% truly are. To me, there are at least two main reasons for this mismatch. Firstly, from about the age of seven, we gradually move from operating on “autopilot” to being “fully automated” at an age around thirty – unaware of how we are behaving and why. In other words: 95-97% of our days, our subconscious mind runs ready “programs” – these are our well-honed habits. Secondly, we tend to strive to show and project ourselves only in a positive light. What would my “neighbors” think if they really knew me?

We need to become more self-aware and more authentic.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your passion.

At an early stage of my life, I developed a burning interest in engineering. I had a very vivid vision about one day becoming a mechanical engineer. At the age of 25, I graduated with a university diploma in mechanical engineering. Looking back, this diploma yielded me a 25-year-long, rewarding global career in the corporate world, and, more importantly, it gave me the excellent opportunity to develop myself into a very successful leader.

Besides engineering, outstanding, strong leadership has always been important to me. As a leader, I have been recognized as very trustworthy and target-oriented, with the ability to easily cooperate with people on all organizational levels and from different cultures. I believe that my strongest leadership qualities include being a good listener and a quick decision-maker. I’m also a great team-builder and skilled in managing change. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to manage cross-cultural global teams, supported by my skillset of languages (Swedish, Finnish, English, and some German), and I have worked in Finland (where my roots are), Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and China.

I deeply care about helping humanity to prosper and to make the world a better place for our children and the generations to follow. How can this be done? My firm belief is that it all starts with excellent authentic leadership, and that:

“Excellent, authentic leadership starts with the person in your mirror”. – Anders BE. Eklund

What inspired you to develop authentic leaders?

The lack of them!

I advocate that today’s business environment doesn’t properly recognize the raw fact that great leadership skills must be learned, trained, and most of all, practiced with dedication and with one’s whole heart. Being a great leader is a calling, not a job. Great authentic leaders inspire us all to become better humans and propel us to reach our highest potentials. As I see it, authentic, great leadership is a dying art form.

That is why I decided six years ago that this is where I want to make an impact: changing the world for the better by creating excellent leaders. My purpose and passion today is to create these inspirational leaders, leaders who become the best versions of themselves – who become and remain authentic leaders.

“My vision is to, through my work as a leadership mentor, positively influence the lives of 10 million people over a time of 10 years.” – Anders BE. Eklund

What does authentic leadership mean to you?

Everything. Great, authentic leaders know and understand themselves thoroughly. They know what makes them ‘tick’ and why they get up every morning. They know what they are good at, and equally know what areas they need to improve and/or need experts for. 

Being authentic is being honest and self-aware. These leaders continually ask themselves questions about how to improve. They are curious; they seek help from mentors, look for information in books or at seminars, and welcome and ruminate on the answers they get. This is something that most average leaders don’t do very often. Psychologist Abraham Maslow put it very well: “Whereas the average individuals often have not the slightest idea of what they are, of what they want, of what their own opinions are, self-actualizing individuals, have superior awareness of their impulses, desires, opinions, and subjective reactions in general.”

Practicing and developing crucial self-awareness doesn’t get enough attention in leadership development programs. Yet, it is one of the most important things leaders should develop to increase their personal and their organization’s performance.

“An excellent, authentic leader helps his/her people to go from where they are to where they have the potential to be.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Which essential areas do you typically assist authentic leaders to master?

I focus on five key areas, which I call “The Authentic Five.” They are: purpose, necessity, life values, execution, communication. With my clients, I work on a one-on-one basis or with groups, ensuring that what we do together strengthen these five essential areas of their leadership. When one masters these leadership areas, other areas will naturally follow and improve.

Purpose: A leader with a strong sense of their own leadership purpose – the why – that inspires them to get up every morning to help others excel beyond expectations.

Necessity: A successful leader has a strong urge to achieve goals – the vision – or something of great importance and value to him/her or others. Necessity is one of the most powerful drivers of human motivation and is indeed the mother of invention.

Life Values: To be a balanced, authentic leader, five “me” energy recourses must be maintained all the time, as no one can give from an empty cup. They are:

  1. The Physical Me
  2. The Mental Me
  3. The Emotional Me
  4. The Spiritual Me
  5. The Social Me

Execution: Effective leaders keep themselves and their teams focused on the goal. They motivate themselves and their teams to do their best to achieve set goals. In other words, an effective leader lays the groundwork for themselves and their team to succeed and then stands back to let his/her team shine.

Communication: Authentic leaders know that there is no efficient communication without a connection. Being honest, open, thoughtful, and listening makes all the difference. Being a good listener is especially critical to being a successful leader.

In my book The Power of Flow State, I describe the power behind mastering the two first areas – purpose and necessity.

My goal as an executive leadership mentor and coach is to use all the above tools and to provide my clients with vast knowledge about themselves as leaders. I’m supported by my extensive leadership experience, the described five key areas, and my expertise in neuroscience and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). Together with my clients, we define everything that should be addressed in these five described vital areas and how to fix them. My leadership mentoring and coaching work is always holistic and tailor-made. This is how I want to differentiate myself from the masses, as good and lasting personal development. Results cannot be achieved by a “one size fits all” process.

Name some of the core issues that often prevent leaders from reaching success.

This is one of the most important topics one can study around leadership and personal success, for that matter. In short, poor execution is hindering them from succeeding. There are at least three main reasons leaders fail to execute.

Firstly, they don’t properly plan their time, and if they do schedule their time, they err on following their plan with discipline. Secondly, they have difficulties prioritizing what matters most. Which task will yield the most when focused on? Thirdly, they have not succeeded in getting the right people on their team to do the right jobs to make it all happen.

Collected data for the Global Leadership Forecast 2018 shows that the organizations of the world are annually spending more than $50 billion developing their leaders. Despite this staggering number, many companies still don’t have leaders who can deliver on future business goals. 86% of the world’s CEOs do not have the necessary leadership skills to execute their strategies!

Sadly, this enormous investment and spending of over $50 billion annually seems to disappear into thin air without giving visible results. Is today’s leadership development a gaping black hole? It certainly looks like it. Why?

It is challenging to see ourselves in the “frame of our own portrait” or to “read the label on the outside of the box we are locked up in.” Thus, two aspects must be addressed here: internal and external self-awareness:

Internal self-awareness is to understand your purpose, necessity (aspirations/passion), and life values (core values). There are too many people on this Earth who are not living their fullest lives. People are not listening to their inner voice and what their heart is telling them – their true purpose in life. Too many are stuck with what they happened to “land on.” This is mostly due to circumstances or external pressure, whether it derives from family, peers, or friends. Even when people feel and know that change is necessary in their lives to feel happier, to be fulfilled, and to be able to enjoy life, they still don’t make the needed changes.

External self-awareness again is about understanding yourself from the outside in. This means that one must know how others see you and to understand their view. But how do you know how others see you? Through communication, and, more precisely, being a very good listener.

However, externally self-aware people might not necessarily be internally self-aware. Research done by organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich has shown that no relationship exists between the two.

Hence, it is crucial to surround yourself with the right, supportive people who genuinely and wholeheartedly want to help you grow and become a better person – an authentic and successful leader. Who are these supportive people? They are mentors!

The right mentor and/or coach always starts with helping leaders to find themselves and to lead themselves first, because:

“If a leader cannot successfully lead him or herself first, that person should not lead anyone else either!” – Andes BE. Eklund

Do you believe that leadership comes from a title or that leaders are born?

I have never believed in the saying that “leaders are born.” Nor does a title equip one with leadership skills. All leaders are made. Period.

Many think that leadership is all about a title, position, money, and fame. When I am asked about my view on the true essence of leadership, I often quote Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space:

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.” – Chris Hadfield

Leadership, as a definition, evolves about every two years (and it should). Earlier, it was focused more around authority and dominance. Nowadays, it’s more focused around collaboration and teamwork. The millennial generation employees have disrupted the old leadership style, and they have a clear view of how the leaders they work with should be. They want a leadership style that is about openness, progress, empowerment, values, and ethics. Millennials don’t mind leaving a job if the leader fails to meet their expectations. This boldness is definitely promoting profound leadership changes.

To me, outstanding leadership does not come from a title nor a position. Great leadership is seen in the action a person takes and the examples they set. Leadership is the ability to influence others, the impact you have on others and about serving others. This, one must wholeheartedly understand and live by.

“Great leaders give and act with others in mind. They leave a lasting legacy.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Does anyone have the potential to become an authentic leader?

Unfortunately, no. I tell my clients that leadership is simple, but hard work. Not every person is prepared to put in the effort and hard work to become a successful, authentic leader.

Why is it so difficult to change? Our subconscious mind occupies 95-97% of our time. In other words, learned habits, behaviors, and attitudes “run the show.” Hence, change doesn’t come naturally for most of us. We prefer to stay in our comfort zones, or our ego simply stands in the way. In fact, we can be our own, worst limitation. That’s why it is so difficult for us to seek, find and embrace our best lives with the remaining 3-5% of our conscious mind.

Meeting with leaders, one-on-one or in teams, I see first-hand how difficult it is to change and how a great deal of effort needs to be put in for it to happen. Usually, only when it is an evident “must,” a forced change occurs. One’s strong ego can also stand in the way. To help my clients with change, I utilize my knowledge and power of neuroscience for achieving a transformation in personal or team leadership.

“Leadership is simple, but hard work”. – Anders BE. Eklund

There seems to generally exist communication gaps between executives and employees in the workplace.

The term “communication” in English is borrowed from the Latin language. The noun “Communis,” means common, communality or sharing. “Communicare” is a verb, meaning “make something in common.” Experts also relate the term communication with the English word community.

A David Grossman Group “Making internal communication work for you” 2017 report tells us that a staggering 63% of employees don’t have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to do and why. This due to a lack of understanding of what their leaders are trying to communicate. A huge gap. Only 37% “get it!”

“The primary problem in leaders’ communication is they have the illusion that it has already taken place.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Successful leaders know that there is no successful communication without connection. Being honest, open, thoughtful, and listening to what is told to them makes all the difference – those leaders are authentic. Captivating, inspiring, and successful leaders are brilliant storytellers. They know that mastering storytelling:

  • Helps them articulate company vision and lead change.
  • Helps them in fostering creativity, innovating and encouraging teamwork.
  • Is contagious, inspiring, and makes things easier to remember.
  • Appeals to all and puts people in learning mode.

“In our minds we are still captivated by sitting around a campfire telling stories.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Are these communication issues something you have also experienced while coaching and mentoring executives?

Yes, I experience this all the time. The complexity of today’s business world requires leaders to be able to communicate on multiple levels and in numerous ways. As a leader, you have to create the vision and persuade and coach your team to make it theirs too. Leaders have to connect on an individual level and inspire their team’s perspective to move from “I” to “we.” They also have to build trust by ensuring that their verbal communication and non-verbal actions reinforce each other. A leader cannot not communicate!

Effective communication is hard because it takes commitment. You have to make effective communication a priority. It takes discipline, consistency and requires clarity and a willingness to keep at it daily. Communication within the company is essential to its success, and a failure to communicate can be costly. Failure to communicate will threaten the livelihood of any business and the people involved, including the executives. Putting a structured communication system in place that connects at the right levels, with all stakeholders, can dramatically improve your effectiveness as a leader and accelerate top and bottom-line growth.

To eliminate miscommunication within your business, you as a leader must first determine the best way for your executives, managers, teams, and employees to receive information from you. Communication is a vital tool within your company, and if incorrectly managed, miscommunication will disrupt day-to-day business, drain resources and have devastating long term effects.

How do you assist executives in addressing and correcting these communication issues?

In practice, to create a community, verbal communication alone is not enough to ensure that the delivered message is correctly understood. One must recognize that most problems in businesses today (also in personal life) derive from the absence of functional communication, the purpose of which is to facilitate a dialogue to create shared meaning and connection.

Effective communication transmits a message to people in such a way that the recipient/-s interpret it precisely in the way the sender intended, and the message is also received timely. Communication doesn’t only occur verbally through the spoken word, but also nonverbally with the involvement of body positioning, actions, facial expressions, and gestures. Communication includes expressing ideas, sharing information, gathering knowledge, expressing thoughts and feelings, as well as understanding what is expressed and shared to you by others. It must be a two-way street.

Technically, the communication process involves both sending and receiving messages and can take many forms. All communication originates from shared symbolic codes in the brain. Thus, thoughts are never directly communicated between people. When we share passion, excitement, and joy with others, our brain releases serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. Neuropsychologists explain that these neurotransmitters are essential ingredients when building meaningful connections with our best friends, partners, and colleagues.

I use my neuroscience knowledge, my public speaking skills, and my extensive experience in being a good communicator to instruct and mentor my clients to address their areas of improvement. I want them to become excellent, authentic communicators and leaders.

“Great leaders have a sincere desire to connect with others.” – Anders BE. Eklund

Provide a brief overview of how you help develop effective, authentic leaders.

I help executives by mentoring and coaching them on a one–on-one basis where they work individually with me, strengthening their five essential areas in leadership: purpose, necessity, life values, execution, and communication.

Equally important, we together ensure that the family/me/work time is in good balance. When I help my client master these areas, other areas of their leadership will naturally improve.

One has to grow first to lead oneself, and after that, one can successfully lead others.

Anders BE. Eklund’s Program Portfolio also include:

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