- What does authenticity in leadership mean?
- How can you discover what makes you uniquely powerful as a leader?
- How can your strengths help you grow in authenticity, and what benefits do they bring to you as a leader and to your team?
Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.
Bringing your "authentic self" to work has been the subject of much recent discussion. And knowing your CliftonStrengths can move you toward greater authenticity. But what does authenticity mean for leaders? And how can they discover their own leadership style as they apply their strengths in their role? Join Austin Suellentrop, CliftonStrengths Portfolio Manager at Gallup, for a revealing look at how you can become a uniquely powerful leader and how your strengths can get you there.
The easiest way to become a leader that is sustainable ... is understanding what it is you instinctively do well to begin with, and how that applies to leading, inspiring, motivating other people.Austin Suellentrop, 12:22
Being able to acknowledge to a team that you are taking action to improve how you do as a leader, but you don't have it all figured out quite yet, is a remarkably powerful conversation.Austin Suellentrop, 19:47
Jim Collison 0:00
I am Jim Collison, and welcome to The CliftonStrengths Podcast. On this podcast, we'll be covering topics such as wellbeing, teamwork, professional development and more. Now enjoy this episode. This episode was previously recorded on LinkedIn Live.
Meet Our Guest on This Episode
Branden Mills 0:18
Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining our LinkedIn Live. My name is Branden Mills, Talent Development Specialist here at Gallup. Today I have the pleasure of hosting today's session. Today's session is focused on how to be a more authentic leader using your strengths. I'm joined with Austin Suellentrop, who is our Product Max Portfolio Manager. And he'll be chatting with us today on what it looks like to be a more authentic leader. Austin, thank you for joining us.
Austin Suellentrop 0:44
Hey, thanks for having me, Branden. Glad to be here.
Branden Mills 0:46
Absolutely. And as we're waiting for a few people to join, feel free to throw your Top 5 in the chat and where you're located as well. I'd love to, to see where you guys are joining in from. Now, I'd also like to throw this question out for everyone to answer as well: What strength are you leading with right now? Austin, I'd love to ask you this question as well, and if you don't mind sharing your Top 5. What strength are you leading with right now?
Austin Suellentrop 1:10
Yeah, absolutely. So my Top 5 are Communication, Activator, Futuristic, Belief and Positivity. I'm going to dip, I'm going to dip down into my, into my Top 10, and I'd say today is a day full of Adaptability for me. So Adaptability's Top 10 for me. Got a lot of things going on; a lot of different moving pieces. And whenever that comes in play in my life, my Adaptability serves me well in being able to sort of be in the moment, enjoy where I am, sort of relish in the moment and jump from one thing to the next and sort of keep all the balls in the air. So it's my Adaptability is really what I'm leading with today.
Branden Mills 1:50
Austin, you know, I have to piggyback off of what you're saying there. I have Adaptability pretty high, too. I feel like there's a lot of moving things right now with us being in like Q4. So it's like I'm hopping back and forth with a whole lot of different things as well. So I love that you say that; I would have to agree. Well, Austin, you know, for those who don't know you, I'd love for you to just tell us a little bit more information about yourself. Tell us about your role and all that great information.
Austin Suellentrop 2:13
Yeah, sure, absolutely. So, as you said, my role, I'm our CliftonStrengths Portfolio Manager here at Gallup, which really means I get the pleasure of sort of leading a team cross-functionally that sort of drives our strategy for everything we do around CliftonStrengths. So if you think about product development, technology, research, learning, client work, everything we do around CliftonStrengths, I'm part of the team that sort of helps drive us forward. So really excited, I love this kind of stuff, being able to interact with our community and share my perspective on strengths a little bit. My background, before I was in this role, I was a consultant with Gallup, where I traveled and taught our courses. I'm an ICF-Certified coach as well. And I spent about, almost 10 years as a client of Gallup's, working with strengths and implementing strengths in my organization before I joined Gallup. So been a practitioner for a long time.
What Is Authentic Leadership?
Branden Mills 3:07
Awesome. You know, Austin, I do have to tell this quick story. I think you were actually one of the first people I met when I first got to Gallup. And the way you were talking about strengths, I was like, man, like I gotta get there. And it's kind of, it's kind of funny to see, this is like full circle now -- now we're having this conversation. So that's awesome. And the way you just described it, too, I love how you're talking about like a lot of things that you manage. So one of the things I'd love for you to do is kind of just talk about What, what would you define authentic leadership? And why is it important to be an authentic leader? And for those people who are just joining in now, too, I'd love for you guys to throw in your Top 5 while Austin's explaining a lot of this information.
Austin Suellentrop 3:44
Yeah. So this idea of authentic leadership, it's, it's something I've always been sort of fascinated by. Because I like to think of it sometimes as, well, if you're not an authentic leader, what kind of leader are you, right? Like, to me, authentic leadership is really the only kind of leadership that works. That if I'm not being authentic, I'm, in some sense, I'm trying to replicate somebody else's, or what somebody else is expecting me to do. And so in my, in my life's experience, I think that this idea of leading people -- of, you know, what is it that people are looking for? And how do I become an effective leader? That's where it begins, and that I, you know, I'm trying to get people to buy in, to be excited about the things I'm excited about, and to try to push us in a direction that I think is going to help better our cause and help us get where we're trying to go organizationally.
Austin Suellentrop 4:41
And that, to do that, the only way I know to lead others is to be honest and open and vulnerable. And that's, that's what authenticity is to me: Here's what I care about. Here's what I don't care about. Here's what, here's where I'm gonna be, you know, unwavering and here's where, you know what, I'm really flexible and don't care how it gets done. And being able to, to be able to sort of communicate clearly with others on, you know what? Being a part of my, of my team, being a part of this group, here's what you can expect from me. And that part of that, Branden, is that I'm an open book. Part of that is also, I'm gonna wear my emotions on my sleeve. Right? We were talking beforehand I, you know, crazy day, a lot of things going on. If you're, if you're working with me and I'm, you're a part of the team I'm on, listen, you're gonna hear about my day. And I want to hear about yours. Because I think it's, it's, it's sort of part of that reality of work and life is being able to be authentic about the goods, the bads, the uglies. And that I think that builds better, better bonds and better relationships that enable me to be a more effective leader.
Branden Mills 5:45
I love that, because it's almost like being transparent, right? Like, you want to make sure that your people are getting that authentic self of who you are, and you're actually showcasing that to a lot of like those associates as a part of being a leader.
Austin Suellentrop 5:57
Well, and to that point, by, by being transparent -- and for me, that's a value I hold dear. And like I told you earlier, like Belief is high for me, right? So I'm very clear with my values, and I'm very clear with, with sharing them. It's also, it makes it much easier for the people I work with and people I lead to know how they can best help. How do they best fit? Because it's a, because of this sort of comfort I have with being honest and open and authentic, that doesn't just mean that they know where I'm great. That means they know where I struggle. And that as their, as their leader, they can say, Well, Austin, look, I don't need to ask you for this; I need to, I can help with that. Like I can be the person to step in and fill that role. So it gives them a clearer understanding of roles they can play that can help the team and help the, help the organization move forward.
Branden Mills 6:51
Absolutely. And, you know, it's interesting that, you know, we're talking about authentic leaders, because you actually just wrote an article about authentic leadership. So Austin, do you mind talking a little bit about like what you wrote in that article?
Austin Suellentrop 7:01
Yeah, sure. It's, it's always fun. I love, I love writing. And it's funny, because when I, when I write, I don't sit down with a, you know, a Word document and start typing. What I do is I talk. I tell stories. I think about the topic at hand and what examples from my life make sense. And I partner with a writer to help me, you know, turn it into a really well-crafted article. That's my approach. It's my style. And so when I started thinking about authentic leadership, I went back to early in my career, feedback I'd received and great leaders I'd worked with, and not-so-great leaders I'd worked with and all my experiences. And it was really clear that, for me, leadership was something I was talking about when I was in the second grade. It began for me, my dad was an executive. And he was a well-respected leader, both in his professional life as well as in his community and his fam, among his family, that he came home from work, and I'd be so excited every day to see him come home from work when I was in grade school. You know, almost every day, he asked me the same question. He said, "Austin, what did you do to be a leader today?"
Austin Suellentrop 8:11
And so like that question, when you have that question posed to you, over and over again, especially as a child, it frames leadership as something, a) that you can do. Like there's action oriented to being a leader, and I can choose to do it or not. Right? But also, it was reinforced as, this is important. Like leadership is important. And so among, you know, my early, formative years, that became the lens that I saw everything through was every relationship, I've got to be the leader. Every team, I've got to be the captain. Every project, I've got to be the one leading the charge. And so it's not coincidental that as an adult, I work in leadership development, right. Like that, there's not a, like, that's, that's something that comes from that. And so, the authentic leadership journey for me was admiring leaders who were really good that I admired that I was like, Wow, I wish I could do that! And sort of experiencing and experimenting of, well, if I tried to do it their way, it had moderate success sometimes.
Austin Suellentrop 9:18
Like, I thought about, I cite an example in the story, in the article, a story about speeches. That, you know, in high school, in grade school and high school through college, like, I had a lot of organizations and opportunities -- I was student council president and all that sort of stuff -- where I'd give speeches. And I would, like, think about, All right, what are the speeches that really moved me? Who were the leaders that, when they give speeches, I get, I get hooked on them? And so I started trying to copy, like, their template, if you will. And what I realized was, that didn't work for me. Like sitting down and writing a speech with like a very structured, a, you know, approach didn't work for me.
Austin Suellentrop 10:00
What worked was when I got up and I spoke from the heart, and I just, I just said what was on my mind and I was, again, that, that authenticity that we talk about, that candor and that transparency. Well, the reason I'm so passionate about it is because I've seen it work for me since you know, 1995. Like, it's just, it's been part of, like, as early on as when I was a, I was a grade-school kid and a teenager, that's when it started to have success for me was realizing, Wow, authenticity is my path. Candor, transparency, don't hold back, tell them exact, tell them the truth. That's what works for me. And so I talk about in the article a little bit about, you know, what is it that you're looking for? What's your path? Are you trying to do it the way somebody else did it? Or have you figured out that, you know what? Your way of being a leader might be different. And you got to feel comfortable and free to figure out what that looks like. And obviously, strengths are that path, right, of understanding what it is that we do well and put the language to it. I think that's the, that's the path.
What Makes You Uniquely Powerful as a Leader?
Branden Mills 10:59
Yeah, so, and one thing that really just stood out to me when you're saying this, right, so it really was this focus on how you can be unique, and how you can show through your uniqueness through leadership, right. And so one thing that you said -- it was my favorite thing you said in your article, too -- you know, I'm gonna steal this; I'm gonna say this to some other people too, Austin. But you said, "Leadership isn't one-size-fits-all. And you'll become the best leader you can be when you find out what uniquely makes you powerful." What does that, what does that really mean? Do you mind touching base on that a little bit?
Austin Suellentrop 11:31
Yeah, yeah. So I think in a world where people are aspiring to do better and to make an impact, it can oftentimes, you know, there's a lot of books written and content out there of, you know, the 10 Tips to Being a Better Leader and 5 Things That Great Leaders Do. And look, I've written, I don't read a lot, but I've read a lot of those books. And I've, I've listened to the TED Talks. And look, it's great -- if you can find tips and tricks from other people, wonderful. But the ultimate truth is that all of those things become transactional and sort of operational things, if you don't fundamentally believe in them and connect with them so that they become part of who you are. The easiest way to become a leader that is sustainable -- and, and this is where I think the connection comes -- is understanding what it is you instinctively do well to begin with, and how that applies to leading, inspiring, motivating other people. Look, that's the renewable energy source. Like that's the thing that's not going to wane over time.
Austin Suellentrop 12:48
So your source of power comes from connecting who you authentically are with what needs to get done. And I think that oftentimes, especially in aspiring leaders, that's a, that's a struggle to feel like, Wait, my way of, my way of connecting may be different than how the other leaders in my organization are. Well, understanding that the only way you're going to be able to connect and maintain that over time is to do it your way. And that part, I think the other aspect of it is, part of leadership is role modeling. Like part of leadership is, eyes are always on you. People are looking to see how you handle situations, how you respond, the tone you set. And so being able to set a tone for, whether it be a family, a small business, an organization, a school, whatever group you're leading -- a team, being able to set the role model and set the example that we're going to be honest, transparent and authentic to who we are, first and foremost. That's what matters the most. That is going to open your team members up to feel the same way to find their voice, to find the way they can make an impact. Whether that is as a leader or not, it's not the point; what matters is that you're helping others see and be empowered through your actions.
Greater Authenticity Through Your Strengths
Branden Mills 14:13
Absolutely. And I think when looking at that, right, I think a big, a big thing that plays into that piece is discovering your strengths. Right? So, you know, I would love to, for you to just talk a little bit about, like, how can you be a more authentic leader by using those strengths, right, understanding what your strengths are?
Austin Suellentrop 14:31
Yeah. So if, I think it's connecting through the people with which you are, you work, whether it be the teammates, your peers, whatever it may be -- connecting with them. What is driving the actions you're taking? Because I think oftentimes, because leaders are so visible, their team will just will simply observe action, and they can assume why you're doing what you're doing. Right? But being able to help sort of connect the dots and validate, Hey look, I'm doing this because I'm trying, you know, is it, is it a Thinking theme that's driving me to think about strategy, and I'm thinking through all the options, and I'm thinking through all of the potential pitfalls? Or is it a, an action theme, an Executing theme that is much more centered around, Hey, we got to get something done right now? That the same behavior of making a decision in a meeting, of making the call that this is the path we're gonna go for, making sure you the people you lead understand, Hey, I'm doing this because of x.
Austin Suellentrop 15:35
So let me give you an example. I've got Strategic No. 6, Adaptability No. 9, I got Activator No. 2. Right. So what that, the way that oftentimes plays out in a, in a team conversation is, Look, I can see 30 different directions we could go. I'm very comfortable with the fact that there's a lot of ways we can go forward with a plan. I'm also really comfortable knowing that the plan we, the path we choose right now may not be the best one. But I'm willing to go there, try it and adjust course later. That's sort of my default setting. So making sure my people understand that when I'm leading them, and that when, when I'm making a decision, or I'm giving my, my sort of support behind the decision, hey, I'm not saying the other choices aren't valid.
Austin Suellentrop 16:20
I'm not saying that there aren't other ways we could go. I'm saying, as the leader, I'm going to push us to take action today. Let's try this path. And I'm willing to put my name behind it. But in 2 weeks, if it's not working, we can go this other path. And helping them understand, that's what's driving my decision; not that impatience in the moment or a decision that this is the one, one and only way we can do it -- helping them connect that the behavior they're seeing for me. how it's connected to my strengths and my hardwiring, helps, I think, them to feel more like, OK, I get it. I see the decision-making. So I should, should and can feel more empowered to make similar decisions and similar approaches in my own life.
Leadership and Building Strengths-Based Teams
Branden Mills 17:01
Yeah, and I love this idea of you're, you're kind of centering this around of like, strengths-based teams, right, and building strengths-based teams. You, and you also, actually, linking back to, you know, going back to your article, you talked about this a little bit. So when, when talking about, like, understanding what your, your teammates' or your department's strengths are, what does that really look like when you're formulating that from a leadership perspective?
Austin Suellentrop 17:24
Yeah. So I think the way I oftentimes think about this, as a leader, I'm, I'm not trying to build a well-rounded, evenly balanced team of complementary strengths that I have every theme filled, and I have every, every domain equally balanced. Like, that's not my goal. My goal as a leader is to create a high-functioning team. That we can get stuff done; we're productive, we're efficient, we're effective, right? So to me, the shortest route to get there is creating strengths fluency among the team.
Austin Suellentrop 18:01
So I care less about what the strengths are of my team, and more, Do we know what our strengths are and what the strengths of our teammates are, so we know when to lean in and lean out? That, to me, is the most important thing. And so the only way I know, as an authentic version of me, to do that is to be honest about what I'm experiencing, what I'm seeing, and then asking my teammates to lean in in certain times, and why I'm asking them. So being able to say, I need, hey, I think you can really help us here, and here's why. The team needs you right now. Right? And being able to hopefully instill confidence in them that the reason we, that we need them is because they are the best on the team to help us with this. They're uniquely set up for success in this situation. So it becomes less of a, less of a game, they're trying to search for some certain formula; and it becomes more about helping people feel they understand who they are, why they're on this team and how they can help.
Branden Mills 19:06
I love that. That's fantastic. And I love the way you're formulating, saying like you're leaning into those strengths that people may not have, and you're actually filling in those gaps. Right? So when looking at it, when being an authentic leader, right, What advice would you give a leader who's just discovered their strengths, or they don't really know how to navigate with all this information?
Austin Suellentrop 19:27
Be comfortable saying that. First step is being comfortable saying, letting your team know, Hey, I'm learning something new here. I'm trying some, a different way of approaching this. I'm trying to learn more about my strengths and learn more about your strengths, but I don't have it all figured out yet. Like that, that action right there of being able to acknowledge to a team that you are taking action to improve how you do as a leader, but you don't have it all figured out quite yet, is a remarkably powerful conversation. Right. I think part of what burns leaders out over time is a sense that they're supposed to have all the answers and have it all figured out and be the one that can always fix every situation. And that, realistically, is an unfair barometer for anybody -- for any human being who is flawed and made up of these brilliant strengths but also gaps in talent and weaknesses that come from it. I think that being able to, for a new leader or a leader who is starting out their strengths journey, being able to really acknowledge what you're trying to do and where you are in your journey will go a long way.
Benefits of Leaning Into Your Strengths, Your Team's Strengths
Branden Mills 20:35
Yeah, and that's, and that's fantastic. That's a great way to, like, think about it. And one of the things I was thinking about as well. So as I was reading through, like, you know, the article you wrote, you started to talk about, like, when people start to, leaders start to lean into understanding what their strengths are and what those employees' strengths are, too, there's some benefits that come with it, like, you know, engagement and retention. Austin, do you mind talking a little bit more about, like, what comes with understanding strengths a little bit more when being a leader?
Austin Suellentrop 21:00
Yeah, it's, it's always, you know, one of the things I love about being a part of the team at Gallup is everything we do is grounded in science and research. So yeah, there's some philosophical stuff here that makes sense and can feel good. But we've got the evidence to back up that, look, when people get to do what they do best, like they're more engaged at work. My favorite stat is they're 6 times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life. What the heck does that mean? It means they're happier. They're carrying less stress with them home from the workday. Like, at the end, if you believe as a leader, that your responsibility is in any way to the people you lead, and you find a thing, an approach that can help them have a better quality of life, why would you not want to explore it further? Like that's, that's where, I'm telling you, that's where I was first introduced to strengths was I was working with engagement and culture inside my organization, and strengths was a, we talked about it as an accelerant to engagement. Like, if you're building that kind of environment, man, you understand people's strengths, and you get there faster, right?
Austin Suellentrop 22:09
I will say, at the, at the core of all of it -- whether it be engagement or leadership or management or whatever, whatever angle you want to take on work getting done -- it comes down to human beings interacting with other human beings, with trust at the center. Do I trust the person I'm talking to? Do I believe that they have like positive intent? Or am I skeptical of everything they say, because I've been burned before. Right? And at the center of trust, it's a relationship between people. And to me, I know my formula of how I build trust, right? And I've talked about it. It's this candor; it's this openness. It's sharing, it's asking, it's genuinely caring, right.
Austin Suellentrop 23:02
But I also know other people have different formulas on how they build trust, things matter more to others than they do to -- and that's fine; it's great. The only way you know that is by asking them and talking about it. And how would you, like, the path through a strengths-based relationship where I know the better questions to ask you versus Jim, like, that our hardwiring is going to open us up to want to talk about different kinds of things and to be more receptive to certain questions than others. That's where, as a leader, my strengths fluency of myself and of my team is so critical, because it sets me up to build trust quicker and maintain it more effectively with people over time.
Discovering Your Own Leadership Style
Branden Mills 23:45
And that makes complete sense. I love the way you frame that. So I guess, Austin, how can, how can you discover your own authentic leadership style?
Austin Suellentrop 23:54
So if you think about leadership from sort of the role and then a favorite -- oh God, I'm gonna get teary-eyed thinking about this -- Curt Liesveld was a mentor of mine, and for any avid strengths, strengths users out there or strengths coaches out there listening, you may, you've seen Curt's work, you know Curt. If the, if, if the leadership is the role -- I'm a leader -- connecting it to your soul, and that's where your strengths come in. So the more you can connect the two aspects -- who you are in your soul, the core of your being, your hardwiring -- to the role you play, that is a bridge gapped by strengths.
Austin Suellentrop 24:41
That understanding that is really sort of central to discovering your strengths, which, we have the assessment you can take, engaging in a conversation with a coach or somebody who is sort of, who understands strengths enough to help you make sense of it. We have tremendous tools and resources that are designed to help make sense of, of your talents and your strengths. To me, that's where it comes is I know, as a leader with high Communication and high Positivity, that I can naturally and comfortably do a really good job of getting people excited about where we're going. And it doesn't take a lot of effort for me.
Austin Suellentrop 25:21
I've got peers who are tremendous sort of Thinking and tactical executionary leaders who have mapped out plans and visions and strategies for things. But they aren't comfortable standing up in front of the group and sharing their vision. Right. And that understanding, I need to lean on people who can help me, like, create the concrete plan, so that I can go, go share it with, with, with comfort and excellence. Likewise, they need people who can help them share the brilliant vision they've created. And that to me, that all comes from understanding the language of strengths.
Branden Mills 26:00
I love, I love how the way you perfectly, you just like framed that up, and understanding that there's this own way of discovering how you can become that authentic by learning a little bit more how to utilize your strengths. Now we actually have a question here from Jim Collison, who's actually producing this today. Jim, Jim had asked, Austin, how would you know your goal of authentic leadership is being met? What are the signs you see in yourself and maybe others?
Austin Suellentrop 26:28
It's a great question. So for me, How do I know my goal of being authentic as a leader is being met? It comes from the relationships I'm building with my team and the kinds of things we're talking about. If the conversation I have with my, with my team members is only work-related -- if there's never sort of the foray into emotional components of the work, how it's making them feel, their apprehensions, their concerns, their fears, their excitements, their joys, all those things -- if that's not coming up, if it's super tactical in nature, and we live in that tactics only, I'm missing the gap in my authentic connection with them.
Austin Suellentrop 27:19
So I know it's being met when I have members of my team asking me for time to talk about something outside of the office. You know, I had, I just had, the other day, I had a conversation with a team member. And they said, Listen, we're going to put work aside for 10 minutes; I need to talk through this issue I'm having. And when, when those things are happening more, that's assigned to me, that I'm connecting with them authentically, because they know I care. And they know, they know I don't consider anything out of bounds, right? So I think that's, that's, to me, a sign I'm looking for. And then, conversely, I feel the relationship is built with them, where it's authentic enough that, if I find myself wanting to share things with them. So if I feel, if I find myself compelled, when something great happens with my kids, for example, right? I got three daughters. When one of them has a really cool moment on the softball field or the volleyball court, and I find myself compelled to send a text to a teammate or a team member, like that's a sign to me that I've built a, that all right, my leadership is working here. That I'm feeling this two-way relationship with this person that I want them to know about what's happening in my life and with my kids' lives, right. And so I think that, to me, is a sign for me that things are working -- when the conversations are broader than just work.
Branden Mills 28:38
Awesome. Well, Austin, thank you so much for your time today on a lot of this great information on how to be a more authentic leader by using your strengths. For all our listeners out there, if you're interested in more of this content, check out our CliftonStrengths Podcast page on any of the available apps. Feel free to check out our YouTube channel as well. And if you aren't following the CliftonStrengths here on LinkedIn, feel free to do, do so. Austin, once again, thank you for your time, and I'll see you all soon.
Austin Suellentrop 29:06
My absolute pleasure. Take care.
Jim Collison 29:09
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of The CliftonStrengths Podcast. Make sure you like and subscribe wherever you listen, so you never miss an episode. And if you're really enjoying this podcast, please leave a review. This helps us promote strengths globally.
Austin Suellentrop's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Activator, Futuristic, Belief and Positivity.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:
Gallup®, CliftonStrengths® and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup. Copyright © 2000 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.