Authentic leadership

If we all strived to operate from a place that respects who we are as individuals, in an ethical manner with integrity in our business dealings, can you imagine the type of leaders we could be for others and, ultimately, ourselves, asks Fiona Hewitt.

The article this month – please feel free to put this down as a personal cathartic experience or less politely a wee rant about people in business. Now I am happy to put a caveat on this and say that I am not perfect and I don’t always come across as a perfect global citizen to my team, clients or professional networks.

But whether it is to my detriment or not I am always honest, and some would say too honest. Who you see is who I am – there are no games, agendas or malice – I am genuinely committed to delivering a great outcome and performance for all parties in business and in life and to be completely transparent in that process.

I am personally tired of people in business who are not who they seem and are not honest or authentic in their approach and dealings.

Now I know being authentic can often be an overused word that is bandied around by organisations and individuals.

But in order for people and businesses to thrive – can we reframe the behaviours that are needed for that to happen and showcase the positive behaviours of leadership rather than some of the negative behaviours we all experience in business, leadership and organisations.

Is authentic leadership being honest and genuine in your approach or is it about being authentic to who you are as a person and then using “the real you” to lead others – or is it an important combination of the two?

Authentic leadership came on the radar when it was introduced as a concept by management expert Bill George in his 2003 book Authentic Leadership and was further developed in the later book True North.

In simple terms George describes authentic leadership as a leadership style that is consistent with a leaders’ personality and core values and that is honest, ethical and practical in the way that you behave.

There are varying theories of what being an authentic leader is, but the prominent message is that there are four distinct components to how an authentic leader operates and engages with others. They are:

  1. Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. Authentic leaders have a high degree of self-awareness – they are aware of their strengths, their limitations and their emotions. They act in a genuine and transparent manner; 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-actualised is an endless journey, and a process that never ends.
  2. Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organisation ahead of their own self-interest. They do the job in pursuit of results and good outcomes, not for their own power, money or ego.
  3. 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 at a human level. This does not mean authentic leaders are “soft.” In fact communicating in a direct manner is critical to successful outcomes, but it is done with empathy and integrity.
  4. Authentic leaders focus on the long-term. A key tenet in Bill George’s model is the company leaders are focused on long-term shareholder value, not on just beating quarterly estimates. There are many examples of significant global organisations, such as Amazon, which have similarly nurtured their people for growth as well as applying the same approach in nurturing the company; recognising it takes time, hard work and patience over a period of time.

Business and leading people in these fast moving and competitive times is challenging and the pressure to perform, progress and succeed is constant.

But do we really need to adopt the callous and self-serving behaviours of notable characters such as the fictional Gordon Gecko from Wall Street or Jordan Belfort which the movie The Wolf of Wall Street was based on, to be successful?

Imagine the organisations we could work in, the outcomes we could create and the connections we could build if we all took the approach that we would act in a manner that demonstrated authenticity, honesty and genuineness in everything we do. The possibilities would be endless; besides being a “nicer sandpit for us all to play in”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we all become some watered down “nice versions” of ourselves or that everything we do in a business context has a happy ending.

Simply this; if we all strived to operate from a place that respects who we are as individuals, in an ethical manner with integrity in our business dealings can you imagine the type of leaders we could be for others and, ultimately, ourselves. 

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