The Path to Excellence: Inspirational Leadership

Leadership is so much more than being authentic, at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe.

Editor’s note: Brian O’Neill, CMSWire Contributor and former chief client officer for FIS, wrote for CX and other teams in his former organization a series of articles. Each were titled, “The Path … ” with each edition being a new take. For example, he would discuss culture, leadership, ownership, purpose, etc. In his six-plus years in his CX role, he sent out 286 notes with the intention to empower, reinforce and frame his company’s mission by sharing insights to help his team improve its game and increase its level of engagement in what it wanted to accomplish. He revives some of these notes and adds some current perspective in this Fall 2022 CMSWire series

Early in our journey on The Path the idea of leadership was highlighted to reinforce to the team that you did not need a title to be a leader (Dec. 10, 2016), but it was more about the action you took to demonstrate key leadership skills (April 1, 2017) and drive the outcomes that would enhance the colleague and client experience.

Authenticity Matters in Leadership

In this updated version, we draw on the principles of leadership while callingout the secret sauce of what your team is truly looking for:


Yes, that’s it. One word. Or, if you prefer the two-word version: Authentic Leader.

I get it. Leadership is so much more than being authentic, at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe (see what I did there?).

So, if the answer is so simple, why is it so difficult to put into practice? The answer to that question lies in our own imperfect humanity.

Call them the demons we carry, or perhaps some notion of “how we are to act” once we achieve a leadership role, these insecurities tend to hold us back from being our authentic self, and thereby impair our ability to lead.

Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader

With Authenticity Comes Vulnerability

To be fair, let’s look at what leadership is about . . . inspiring, guiding, nurturing, challenging and even loving a team such that they consistently play and perform at a high level. Some of these seem to be cancel each other out . . . I mean, how can you inspire while challenging someone?


That’s the joy of leadership and why everyone is not capable of being effective in that role. It also points to why your willingness to be authentic, the real you, the human — warts and all — is so critical to being an effective leader.

In the wild (aka: the place you call work), your colleagues have one inescapable and innate superpower: the ability to sense a fraud. Who me? A fraud? No way.


With authenticity comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes a level of trust others cannot achieve with a group of humans presumably trying to accomplish the same goal. You’ve heard the fraud before, “everything is fine, nothing to see here, we are doing great, just work harder.”

Sometimes these are talking points generated to address a difficult situation or pending event that may just have an impact on a team. So, it begs the question, how would you prefer to be treated — with the truth and authenticity to the root cause, or just placated and told to run along?

Exactly. Part II.

There is an old sales adage that says, “people buy from people.” Agreed. But I used to share with my sales team that people buy more from people they like, and they buy even more from people they like to hang out with.

Have you ever willingly hung out with a fraud? Made them a trusted advisor? Sought them out for advice?

Enter the Authentic Leader.

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