Polished vs. Authentic

I had coffee with a young emerging leader this week. She is learning leadership by the bootstraps (the best way in my opinion). During our conversation she said, “sometimes leaders can be too polished.” We went on to discuss how leaders that are too polished want to make leadership look good. They want to say the right things and make leading look gorgeous and important. But in reality, the best leaders to learn from and to work for are more authentic than polished.

Of course, this got me thinking about how we lead this next generation. Can I speak freely? Okay, thanks, I will. If you are going to lead the 40-and-under generation, then you had better be ready to prove your leadership, not just speak it. They are not impressed with the polish. They want to see and feel leadership in action.

Are you a polished leader or an authentic leader? Here is the difference:

On Trust

Polished leaders say they want your trust. Authentic leaders do not even use the word trust. It is not a topic of discussion. It just happens. They extend trust to you without judgement and, in turn, expect to earn it from you. Polished leaders question loyalty when trust is not immediately given to them. Authentic leaders enjoy the journey of earning trust.

On Outcomes

Polished leaders pontificate and motivate others by talking about vision and ideas. They shine things up and excite us with what we could do. The authentic leader loves vision talk only when it is associated with relevant actions that will create outcomes to accomplish the vision. To the authentic leader, a vision is nothing if it cannot be seized.

On Surroundings

Polished leaders are very concerned with image and status. They want to be associated with successful people and therefore surround themselves with those individuals they perceive as successful. Authentic leaders love the messiness of leading. They are practitioners and they are attracted to raw talent and the healthy discontented soul.

On Critique and Conflict

Polished leaders get nervous when conflict arises because it is dirty. They feel threatened by critiques because they want to be seen as a polished leader. Authentic leaders understand that nobody truly has it figured out and those who believe they do are fake. Authentic leaders search out opportunities to be critiqued and create an open environment where others feel safe to be critical.

On Communication

The polished leader can be a master of communication. They practice what they say and how they say it. They put great care into their statements. They believe it is the words they express that make an impact. Authentic leaders can also be great with communication, but they are more likely to say it as they see it. Their words can be realistic enough to ruffle feelings or thoughts.

Polished leaders are described as being very motivational and well liked. Authentic leaders are often described as the real deal.

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  • A. Jayne says:

    I am an emerging leader of the millennial generation myself and I do not believe being authentic and being polished are mutually exclusive. Polished connotes thorough preparation and strategy; authentic connotes genuity, humanity and honesty. A successful leader should be both.

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Thanks for your comments Jayne! A good leader definately needs to have balance. Appreciate your thoughts.

  • Earl Breon says:

    Authentic is such a great word for the content of this article. Authentic struggles are better than fake success. Excellent article!