“The two most important days in your life are the day
you are born and the day you find out why.”
– Mark Twain
It continues to surprise us at CEE Global through our Executive Coaching engagements how many leaders attempt to be one way at work, while their “true” personality emerges outside of work. It is surprising when these same leaders seem shocked or confused when their employees don’t trust them, don’t like them, and can’t really wait to work elsewhere.
Authenticity has been explored throughout history, from Greek philosophers to the work of Shakespeare (“To thy own self be true.” – Polonius, Hamlet). Authentic leadership has been explored sporadically as part of modern management science, but found its highest levels of acceptance since Bill George’s 2003 book, Authentic Leadership.
Demystifying Authentic Leadership
But what is authentic leadership? How can you become and remain an authentic leader? Are organizations choosing and developing the right people to lead?
Authentic leaders, according to Bill George, genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference; more than they are interested in power, money or prestige for themselves. They are guided equally by the heart and the mind – practicing heart-based guidance grounded in passion and compassion, as well as thoughtful leadership grounded in the qualities of the mind. They lead with purpose, meaning and values. And their people relationships are extremely strong. People follow them because they are consistent, reliable and strong. When they are pushed to go beyond their beliefs and values, they will not compromise. They are dedicated to personal growth and learning because they believe that becoming a leader takes a lifetime.
Authentic leadership encourages individuals to investigate their pasts, identify key defining moments in their lives that helped shape who they are and use these as springboards to identify their individual, authentic leadership purposes. In fact, leadership is very personal and different for everyone.
Authentic leaders are Level 5 leaders who demonstrate ontological humility and are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They also realize that being self-actualized is an endless journey, never complete.
Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results. They are able to put the interest of their people the centre of their business strategy. Highly engaged and motivated employees make the difference between a truly successful organization and a mediocre entity are the driver of customer engagement. Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. They do the job in pursuit of results, not for their own power, money or ego.
Authentic leaders lead with their heart, not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees. This does not mean authentic leaders are “soft.” They leverage on Socialised Power and not Personalised Power. They are able to demonstrate Social Intelligence competencies. When the situation warrants it, they communicate in a highly impactful and direct manner which is critical to successful outcomes, but it’s done with empathy; directness without empathy is cruel.
Authentic Leader’s Purpose and Values
The essence of leadership is to create future that is better than the present, PURPOSE and VALUES are the guides that help you in pursuing it. Your PURPOSE and VALUES define your leadership identity, and give you they energy you need to stay the course.
The only way to define your purpose and values is to ask yourself some tough questions and answer them honestly. Answers may not come to you right away, so you have to keep asking the questions until you find the answers that are right for you.
Thus, firstly you need to have clarity of personal purpose. After that, you have to imagine a better future. Once a clear picture of desired future takes place in mind, determine the values that will guide you while pursuing the better future. Chances are you will clear about the values and principles you would use to resolve difficult dilemmas.
Profile of Author:
Prof Sattar Bawany is the CEO & C-Suite Master Executive Coach of Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global). CEE is a premier network for established human resource development and consulting firms around the globe which partners with our client to design solutions for leaders at all levels who will navigate the firm through tomorrow’s business challenges.