3 Ways to Discover Your Authentic Leadership Style

By Chet Kapoor, Chairman and CEO, DataStax

Everyone has a point of view on leadership. There are tons of books, articles, and case studies with frameworks for becoming a great leader. These resources can absolutely help you find inspiration and hone your perspective, but here is the truth: There is no perfect model.

After 20+ years in tech and speaking with leaders from many of the world’s most recognized brands and fastest-growing startups, I’ve learned that the most important thing about leadership is: Be yourself.

Here, I’ll share a few tips to help you uncover your authentic leadership style.

 Start by leading yourself

The first step for anyone who wants to become a leader is to “lead yourself” first. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your values? Where do you find meaning and inspiration? What do you believe in more deeply than anything? If you can answer these questions, you’ll be on your way to uncovering your authentic style.

Hari Moorthy, Co-Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs Platform Solutions, is not just a world-class technologist — he’s also a lifelong meditator. In a recent conversation, he explained how mindfulness has helped shape his journey. “In every one of our minds, there is a constant chatter that goes on. Just listening to that, understanding what your inner mind says, goes a long way,” Hari said. “It’s the foundation of how we come to peace with ourselves and how we start listening to others.”

As you listen to your thoughts, internalize your values, and develop strong convictions, you will find yourself leading in a way that comes naturally. You’ll demonstrate meaning in the unique way you find meaning. You’ll communicate values in the way you understand them. And you’ll build trust the way you trust yourself and others.

Have hard conversations

Listening to your inner voice is crucial, but you will also learn a LOT about yourself through having hard conversations. When faced with an uncomfortable situation — whether you’re sharing negative feedback, navigating conflict, or discussing personal issues —  are you empowered to communicate your perspective or worried about what other people might think? Are you open to listening when others share their PoV, or do you tend to be defensive or dismissive? Do you search for solutions that benefit the whole team or just yourself?

Author and leadership coach Jennifer Edwards is a pro at helping people handle hard conversations. “We never know what the person in front of us really has going on, and most of us wear brave faces,” she said. “If there’s one thing I believe we have to bring to any conversation, it’s care. It’s time for some radical compassion, to understand that people are not actively trying to be unhappy. They just might be stuck.”

Still, we all have blind spots and bad days. So, what happens when a hard conversation gets tense and emotions start running high?

“If you get absolutely triggered or hijacked, there are two ways to unstick yourself. One is to give yourself some space, breathe, and get perspective as quickly as possible. And the second is to acknowledge it publicly to the people you’re with and ask for a timeout to regain your thinking,” Jennifer shared.

Having hard conversations helps us make informed decisions, solve tough problems, and understand others. If you are willing to embrace the discomfort of these moments, you will grow to be more open-minded, humble, and compassionate. The more you practice, the more you will learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Let this self-awareness inform how you want to lead others.

Know your gaps

No matter how smart you are or how long you’ve been in the business, there will always be things you don’t know. When you’re facing a problem at work that you don’t have the answer to, just admit it. It’s okay to tell your team, “I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m confident we’ll find one.” This is not weakness — it’s humility. And it creates a positive feedback loop, where your honesty helps others feel safe being their authentic selves, too.

Knowing what you don’t know can also be a huge inspiration for continuous learning. PayPal CTO Sri Shivananda said, “I feel like each year stretches me as a person, stretches me as a professional. You feel less knowledgeable each year you grow — but that becomes a fire, a compelling force to learn.”

There will always be vastly more things that you don’t know than things you do know. Try to see this as a gift. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, build a safe environment, and inspire others to be the best version of themselves.

It’s a journey

Every person is on a journey to find their true self, whether they know it or not. Sometimes it takes a few years and sometimes it takes a whole lifetime — but we are always evolving and growing.

If you want to be a leader, just remember the most important thing is to be yourself. Start by looking inward. Then, externalize your values and be open to learning as you earn the right to lead others.

Learn more about DataStax here.

About Chet Kapoor:

Chet is Chairman and CEO of DataStax. He is a proven leader and innovator in the tech industry with more than 20 years in leadership at innovative software and cloud companies, including Google, IBM, BEA Systems, WebMethods, and NeXT. As Chairman and CEO of Apigee, he led company-wide initiatives to build Apigee into a leading technology provider for digital business. Google (Apigee) is the cross-cloud API management platform that operates in a multi- and hybrid-cloud world. Chet successfully took Apigee public before the company was acquired by Google in 2016. Chet earned his B.S. in engineering from Arizona State University.

IT Leadership