Authentic Leadership - find and be the unique leader in you by Bela Labovitch

Automatic Summary

Discover Your Authentic Leadership Style: A Conversation with Bella Lebovich

Recently, we had the privilege of hosting an inspiring session with Bella Lebovich, Vice President Engineering at Athena House. Bella has occupied distinct positions in her career, from Chief Technology Officer to developer, in various workplaces including startups and major enterprises. Bella possesses a burning passion for attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce and elevating them to leadership positions. In this session she shares her expertise and wisdom on authentic leadership.

Authentic Leadership Defined

Authentic leadership is a concept that sprang up from the business world in 2003, put forth by Bill George in his book on the same. George posited that the key to success for leaders lay in being their authentic selves. Authentic leaders demonstrate self-awareness, deep-rooted values, and passions that allow them to lead genuinely and empathetically.

Bella cited the examples of Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks and Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States, as authentic leaders. She highlighted their keen self-awareness, understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to authentically and empathetically relate to their individual struggles and journeys.

Characteristics of Authentic Leaders

During her talk, Bella listed five key attributes that define an authentic leader:

  1. Sense of Purpose and Passion: Authentic leaders are driven by a clear purpose and passion which often guide their actions.
  2. Understand Their Values: They are cognizant of their values and adhere to them consistently in their leadership roles.
  3. Relationship Builders: They cultivate strong relationships by viewing their teammates, customers, and stakeholders as individuals and connecting with them on that level.
  4. Goal Oriented: Authentic leaders understand their personal and work goals, maintain a balance between them, and pursue them with self-discipline.
  5. Genuine Heart: They display genuine empathy, which Bella insists is the most crucial leadership trait today.

The Importance of Empathy in Leadership

Bella emphasized the role of empathy in leadership, especially in the current global situation marked by pandemic effects, climate crises, wars, and looming global recession. Being able to understand where a person is coming from, their perspective, and future ambitions is key in these times.

A Homework for the Audience

Bella ended the session by giving her audience a task to help discover their own leadership style. She encouraged them to reflect on their values, life journey, purpose, and how they're seen by others. By understanding and embracing these facets of their personality, they would be on their way to becoming authentic leaders.


Bella strongly advocates for authentic leadership as the pathway to attract and retain diverse teams and achieve the best business outcomes. It is this authenticity that engenders trust and commitment from those they lead. Bella concluded the session by urging everyone to discover their unique leadership qualities and to make a difference in their lives and those of others.

Do you have follow-up questions or want to share your experiences in leadership? Connect with Bella Lebovich via her email or LinkedIn, and she would be more than happy to engage with you.

Video Transcription

My pleasure to introduce you, Bella Lebovich, Vice President Engineering at Athena House. Bella has held a variety of positions from Chief Technology Officer, architect and developer at companies that range from start ups to larger enterprises. She's passionate about attracting and retaining more and technology and to leadership positions.

Her session, authentic leadership, find and be the unique leader in. You will help uh will help you take a closer look at why is it important to discover your authentic leadership and how to embark on your journey to it? And hi Bella, she, she is already here and she's super excited. Hi, Bella, very, very happy to have you with us.

I am super excited and I'm so inspired by Lena. That was such a wonderful session and it leads in beautifully into my session. She ends with leadership and um so let me share my screen here


OK, and start my presentation. All right. So thank you to each of you for being here today to listen, learn and be better leaders at work and in your life. Um So I thought I'd tell you a little bit about myself before jumping into our conversation about authentic leadership. My career journey began as a computer science major. I was lucky enough to find coding and love it. And during my early career, I was a shy and quiet software engineer. And one day I organized some people at work to go out running at lunch. I know it's a small thing, but I was out running and I just had this aha moment of wow, I can do this. Leadership is taking initiative and influencing bringing people along. And that moment then led me to do more, take more initiative, take meeting notes, send out action items and eventually led me to becoming a more former leader as a manager of engineering and then a director of engineering. And I was at a high stress job. I had two Children. I was trying to balance work and career. And then my second son said to me one day, he barely, barely had words and I'm going to talk about my career playground here, Erin.

Um He said, mom, mom, mom, I hate that you work and you know, I just just it was hard, it was hard for me. So I did a career pivot in my career playground. And I went back to being more of an individual contributor as a software engineer and an architect. And then later in my career, I did come back into more formal engineering leadership. So um I tell you the story, ah for one moment, that's the little 18 month old in indulge me, those are my boys. Um But even though my personal journey led me to becoming a leader in work, I'm going to start this conversation by stating that each of you listening is a leader, period. And I think uh Lena talked about that a little bit. And as John Maxwell says, you influence somebody at work or in your life. And so I would like each of you to walk away from this talk, inspired to take initiative and make that difference to somebody somewhere. And I'm going to help you understand authentic leadership and help you find your own authentic leadership style because authentic and empathetic leaders have the most engaged and committed teams and produce the best business results.

So whatever you are leading at work or in your personal life, you want the best results in the end. So let's up on a journey uh to understand and to discover how to be discover and be that unique leader in you. Let's talk about what an authentic and empathetic leader is, why you should be one and then how you can become one. So the idea of authentic leadership showed up in the business world in 2003. And it was created by Bill George who wrote this book on authentic leadership. And the book takes on the entire theory that for leaders being themselves is the key to finding success. And authentic leaders are marked by keen self awareness. They have deeply held values and passions and that enables them to show up as genuine and lead with empathy. So in those days, people like me who were reading books about how to lead like a man and trying to figure out how to lead that. That was just like what I can be myself. It was interesting, you know, it's just a revolutionary. Um And so Bill George actually tells a story about a little boy who comes home from school one day and sees his father on the couch, his foot in a cast, his leg in a cast, he slipped at work and he's got fired. He doesn't have health insurance, he doesn't have workers comp uh his mother is eight months pregnant.

And so this little boy spends the next 6 to 12 months answering the phone when the bill collectors call and it marks him so much that he vows one day to create a company that his father would be proud of. And this little boy is Howard Schultz, who's the CEO of Starbucks. And I know Starbucks is having some trouble nowadays, but it Starbucks was known as a company that was really people focused. It was one of the first companies that gave health insurance to part time workers.

And Bill George was known as an authentic leader who really cared about others and was people focused and, and and was genuine, right? And so I guess when I say authentic leadership. I ask you who comes to mind for you. Um I asked some of my friends, people, I um I, I talked to a lot and I did a survey and interestingly enough, the person that bubbled to the top as an authentic leader uh was Michelle Obama uh who used to be the first lady. I think most of you know, her and um Michelle, the thing about Michelle Obama is she's very, very self aware, right? And she's examined her journey and she knows her values, she knows her own strengths, she knows her own weaknesses. And she speaks really authentically about her journey, not as an ordinary American, she knows her roots as a middle class American. And she speaks as a mother, as a daughter who can recognize and empathize with the struggles of ordinary women, ordinary Americans and from her own self awareness, she also talks about her desire to continue to evolve and be a better version of herself. So if you step back and we think about Howard Shultz, who you may or may not know. You think about Michelle Obama, what are the, the the traits that make them authentic leaders? So authentic leaders have a sense of purpose and passion.

And I ask each of you to think about what is your passion, your purpose. It doesn't have to be big. You know, I think about um Nicole who joined my company last year. She showed up at work was looking for support. Uh She's a Latina and she, she couldn't find a community of support that she felt comfortable in. So she pulled together a Tina Comunidad, a community for Hispanics, Latinx people. And it's doing really well and um, so I'm having trouble here at my screen. It's doing really well today and it's on its way to becoming an, er, G or I think about uh Olivia at my company. Uh she's a software engineer and she was trying to get her mother uh uh appointment for a COVID shot a couple of years ago and she couldn't find anywhere. So she wrote a, a website that scraped COVID appointments and presented them and she just had that purpose and passion and she made a difference. So authentic leaders have that purpose and passion, authentic leaders also understand their values and they lead with integrity. Another, I, you know, urge each of you to think about what core values are important to you uh for me personally, one of the values and, and do they show up in your life? Do you live your values?

Um One of the values that's important to me, for example, is positive regard, the notion that each person is coming from a good place. And a couple of weeks ago, one of my team members was trying to solve a problem and he causes all kinds of swirl and I got all kinds of complaints about him and I thought to myself, oh, I got to talk to him. I was irritated and I put a meeting on the calendar and then I reminded myself, wait, he was coming from a good place and that just changed the whole tenor of my conversation with him. So values are important, living, our values are important. Number three, an authentic leader is a relationship builder and they look at their customers, their teammates, their stakeholders, everybody is as actually individual people and get to know them as people. Um I was talking to my friend Laura who's a VP of product. And she said to me, Bell, she calls me Bell. I know the name of the Children of each and every person in my organization and that, you know, things like that are inspirational, get to know people. Number four, authentic leaders are not just authentic and genuine, they actually really understand their own personal goals, their work goals, they balance them well and they go after them with self-discipline and modeling.

This has the people they lead to also go after goals with self discipline, producing the best results. And then number five, an authentic leader has a genuine heart. They're empathetic and I'm going to double click a little bit on empathy in a moment. Um So there's other leadership skills that are important and the ones that I've been thinking about a lot lately is one is listening, how many of you sometimes you're listening to somebody but your brain is busy, like how am I gonna respond? And someone said to me recently, you listen to understand, don't listen to respond. Authentic leaders are great listeners and authentic leaders are curious. Um Erin talked about curiosity, you know, and iii I urge each of you to cultivate your own curiosity, ask questions. And if you're a authentic leaders, why do you wanna be one? There have been so many studies that show that the perception of those you lead, whether you're a formal leader or you're just leading something in your life is that it's a predictor of the job, the satisfaction, the happiness and the commitment of those you lead. So that's something that's interesting. All right. So I'm gonna um now double click a little bit more on empathy, empathy was always important as a leadership trade.

But according to a Forbes article from September last year, it is the most important leadership trait skill, the most important leadership skill, which is crazy and is taking on even more meaning and priority. And you think about where we are today. Um You know, we're in this post pandemic era and we have wars, climate events, um looming recession, global recession and everyone is, people are struggling, you know, mental health has become an issue. A lot of people are struggling with, people are struggling with their personal lives and it's just so important for each and every one of us to learn. Understand where a person's coming from. Those we interact with, where are they coming from? Where they, where do they want to go? How can you understand their perspective? And I think about um 2019 when COVID hit and, you know, all of us had to work from home and people were struggling. I'm sure many of you on the call was struggling with, you know, your having your Children at home, the stress of COVID uh taking care of your, your parents, there was a lot going on. And so myself and my um leaders, we made a decision that we were going to tell everybody, listen, don't worry about work, do what you have to do first and, and it'll be OK.

And in 2021 we actually got a piece of software that helped us measure developer productivity and we were surprised that developer productivity actually went up in 2020 as opposed to 2019. And I'm sure I'm so sure that was because of the empathy. So anyway, so why should you be an empathetic leader? Empathy increases innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, all sorts of goodness as if you didn't need more reasons to be empathetic. All right. So now I'm going to give each and every one of you a homework assignment.

I want everyone on this call to discover their own leadership style. So take a picture of the screen and I'm going to ask each and every one of you in the next two weeks to put two hours on your calendar and take a piece of paper and leave, put it next to you and don't say you don't have the time. You will find the, find your, find the time, you can find the time because I think this is worth it. Find the time to reflect. Think about your own values. Who are you, what is important to you? And as you think about those values, think about how do they show up for you in your own leadership? I think about my values of self discipline, empathy, teaching and learning teamwork. Those are my values that I am constantly reminding myself to show up in my own leadership style. The second thing is think about your journey through life. We heard about Lena's journey, for example, think about where you have come from, what has shaped who you are today, which life experiences were transformers. Who were you inspired by? What led to self awareness?

Really take, take that time to examine your journey and how that has shaped you today and the kind of leader you either are or you would like to be. I think about my own journey. You know, my grandmother who, who taught me compassion by her own actions, learning self-discipline through watching my mother. This is just a fascinating thing to do. I, I actually did it myself and I urge you to do it. And then number three, find your purpose what is your purpose for me? For example, one of my core purposes, I I would like to um attract and retain more women intact, grow more women leaders. I like, I, I want to improve health care and I work at Athena Athena today because of this. Um find your purpose. What lights you up. And if you can't find your purpose, don't, don't worry about it, your purpose will find you. And then number four, get feedback. It's really important for you to know how others see you. Um And you can ask others. Um Sometimes you can ask your manager or hr to do a 360 which is anonymous feedback on you. It's really important to understand this and then reflect, take all this information, spend some time and reflect on what you need to improve. We're all work in progress, we're all in our career playground. Um There's so much that we need to just reflect on.

So I'm going to end here to say, I hope you all understand now what an authentic leader is. Why you want to be one wherever you are one and steps you can take to discover and be that unique leader in you. So authentic leaders align their leadership styles with their values, they show up as genuine, they are passionate, they have integrity, their relationship focused, they're goal oriented, they're very empathetic and their desire to serve others. And that desire manifests itself in the trust of the people they lead and ultimately shows up in the best results, right? So I'm going to end by saying that the world needs more leaders like you, my friends, each of you, your combination of skill, passion values are all unique. So discover your unique leadership, step up and lead with light and make a difference today and make a difference every day. Thank you.

And thank you, Bella. What a wonderful talk. So many profound questions you asked us today and our homework assignment. Definitely going to do that. Thank you so much. I really loved what you said that each of us is a unique leader and we need to discover that so we can become better leaders, better citizens, better friends, better team players, whatever that could be for us, better parents, but her daughter, you know, so yeah, thank you so much.

And unfortunately, we don't have time for questions, but I see a couple of questions in the chat and many people are sharing their wonderful comments also here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, and question. So what is the best way to get in touch with you if people have some follow up questions or maybe share their results, you know? Yeah, maybe

I'll, I'll hop up and put my email address in the link or linkedin. Of course. Um I'm more than happy to talk to any of you and uh absolutely answer questions. Thank you.