We are all authentic leaders, aren’t we? All of the time and with our teams? Probably not. In my experience of developing and coaching hundreds of leaders, many leaders often wear a ‘cloak of leadership’. Something that is put on them by their organisations, or they adopt it from those leaders who have gone before them, or, something which they believe leadership is about. Similarly, many leaders have a semi alter ego. Who and how they are as a leader is different from who and how they are as a person. They feel they need to be different when leading. Authentic leadership encourages us to see leadership as an extension of who we are.

Now more than ever our teams and employees need, ney deserve authentic leaders. As we move into a new year with good intentions. What better intention is there than being true to ourselves and the people we lead and serve?

Authentic Leadership origins

Authentic leadership is not a new concept. It stems from Greek Philosophy around personal values and ethical choices. It now sits very much in the realm of positive psychology. The concept was popularised by Bill George in his 2003 book – Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. It was written partly in response to some of the big scandals of WorldCom, Enron and others.

Authentic leadership according to George begins firstly with how the leader leads themselves, rather than about skills or competencies. If the leader leads themselves well to begin with, this will manifest in how they lead others.

George believed that authentic leaders had four key attributes to who they were:

  • Practices their values
  • Have a purpose which is pursued with a passion
  • Established long-lasting meaningful relationships
  • Demonstrates self-discipline

Subsequently, Kernis (2003) added that authentic leadership also is about:

  • Self-awareness
  • Unbiased processing
  • Relational authenticity
  • Authentic behaviours

So what do these 8 elements pragmatically mean for leaders in organisations and of teams?

Self-awareness and practicing values

Self-awareness is also key to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. You having deep insight into yourself. How you think, behave, feel. How you respond to people and situations. Aware of your strengths and development areas and actioning these. Aware of your natural leadership styles and approaches. You continually seek feedback at all levels on and learn from this. Finally, you are also a reflective practitioner. Continually reflecting on your actions and making changes accordingly.

Self-awareness also includes being aware of what your values are. What drives you and why. Many leaders have never identified and explored what their values and beliefs are. This is a key fundamental in understanding why you do what you do and how you feel. How these values support and hinder your own leadership. How you might manage them when they are conflict with the behaviours and values of others, without compromising them.

Knowing your purpose and pursuing it with passion

From your self-awareness what is your purpose within and for the organisation as a leader? Why do you do what you do? What are you about and what direction are you going? Determining your ‘why’ for the team. Knowing your purpose brings meaning and pleasure to what you do. It provides direction and focus and helps to identify priorities. Often, your ‘why’ is strongly influenced by your personal values. How does what the organisation wants you to achieve align with how you need the team to be?

Getting you know your purpose isn’t a 5-minute job. It takes deliberate reflection and exploration. Discussions with an expanse of people will provide insights to process and opportunities to reflect. Once you have begun to determine your purpose, sharing it will reinforce it and keep it in your consciousness.

Part of knowing your purpose is being able to shape a vision for yourself or your team. Once you have an idea of these you can begin to have meaningful discussions with your team and reports. Helping them to discover purpose not only will help fulfil them but will also transform the nature of team conversations and relationships. If the team know why they do what they do will directly impact upon performance.

Establishing long term authentic relationships

Everybody, especially leaders need quality relationships in work. It is not through what we individually do that helps us achieve. It is through relationships we have and how we use and manage them that bring our successes. Authentic relationships happen when there is a genuine and consistent desire from both parties to value the other and what they say. To learn and grow from each other. To do this often requires you to be vulnerable, exposing your strengths and weaknesses to others and trusting they will do the best by you. Interacting, listening, showing interest and being transparent not only builds connectedness but also shows a genuine intent towards others. Sharing with others, being accountable to them, keeping your promises and giving your attention to others.

As a leader you need to feed not only your own ‘emotional bank account’ but also that of other. If you keep taking, eventually the account runs dry. Investing in others accounts shows a genuiness and encourages others to feed your account too. Providing team an individual feedback on team relationships.

Investing in relationships begins to role model behaviours to others. Your team will see the ‘difference’ in you compared to other leaders in the business. Everyday, you as a leader you interact with people. Each interaction is a moment to be authentic with others.

Unbiased and balanced processing

Here you are demonstrating integrity. Staying true to your values whilst at the same time being receptive to differing viewpoints. Overtly seeking out opposite perspectives to inform your decision making. These either reinforce your standpoint or force you to appreciate weaknesses in it. The temptation is to see the decision-making process to be yours alone. Whilst the ultimate decision is yours to make, the authentic leader embraces many points of view to inform their own decision making.

Aligned with integrity is how you make decisions for the right reasons, not ones politically or personally motivated. But, for the greater good, even if it brings discomfort. This is one of the hardest elements of being an authentic leader. There are so many pressures from many directions, but the authentic leader stands for what is right, not for what is always popular.

Creating opportunity for your team and others to freely discuss situations, views and concerns without fear of repercussions. To provide you with feedback which might be challenging for you and them. Patrick Lencioni in his team dysfunctions model, states that the ability to do this is a component of a performing team.

Being disciplined

This has a couple of facets. Firstly internally. With the self-awareness gained you are strengthening your weaknesses, reflecting and learning continually. You hold yourself accountable to your own values, purpose and standards. You know what is right and you adhere to it. This self-awareness also allows you to regularly be in the moment, able to focus on what is important.

Secondly, you are also focusing on what you want to achieve or a direction your want to follow. Doing this despite any setbacks, change or challenge. Prepared to go it alone if necessary. You believe in the approach the team is taking and you stick with it. This is also about keeping others on track to in activities and behaviours. You provide feedback and insight to others to help them to learn and develop their own discipline.

Being disciplined manifests itself in many ways. Employees will see and hear it in your language and approach. Reflectiveness, questioning, clarity in vision, holding all against what you are trying to achieve. You will feedback and develop awareness in the team. They will be aware of and be working towards the vision. They will know where they stand with you, expectations of them and theirs of you. Transparency will be evident.

Authentic behaviours

If all of the other elements are being developed or present then authentic behaviours will more naturally follow from you. The Trust Equation speaks about doing things not out of self-interest underpins trustworthiness. Your behaviours are consistent no matter the circumstance or person. You are predictable. You truly represent yourself as the person you are, not as the person you should be or once were. There is a genuine and visible intent towards others as well as yourself.

You are highly conscious of yourself, your thoughts and actions. Yet this is balanced with an overt kindness to all. 

It is easy to see people who demonstrate this authenticity as it exudes from them. There is something different about them, making them stand out from those around them. 

The challenge and rewards of being consistently authentic

Becoming and being an authentic leader is difficult. But not impossible. Of all the leadership models or theories this is one of the hardest to achieve. It is a developed, practiced and distilled state of being. As you develop and know yourself as a person so this is reflected in your leadership. You might do some of the above elements some of the time, but do you do all of them all of the time? Something to aspire towards.

It is sometimes difficult to swim against the ‘organisational current’, culture or popularism. But that is what these leaders do; every day. They think and act with the same intent as they do in other facets of their lives. They are true to what they believe and won’t compromise this. Thought this can be uncomfortable when peers are not behaving the same. Or when your manager ask you to do something that might be compromising. 

However, the rewards of being authentic are significant. Every day you can leave work knowing that you have done the best you can, by all and for the right reasons. You have role modelled behaviours to others. Others will respect and admire you. You have set standards around personal integrity and ethical practice. There is challenge from you, yet fairness is provided to all. You have been true to them, but moreover, you have been true to yourself.

Now more than ever…

Many leadership models and theories, whilst valid as also quite ‘distant’. Situational, transformational, contingency theory, action-centred etc, etc, all have a place and role. However, they all miss or focus less the connectedness and humanity that Authentic Leadership posits and brings. In these current times, leaders need to bring more of themselves to their teams and organisations, not less. Yes employees are looking for strong leadership, vision and direction…. They are also looking for a leader who shares the same emotions, experiences and relationships as them. Someone they can relate to and learn from. Someone who is with them, in the same boat, who they can implicitly trust, believe and who they can persevere with in the same struggles. Authentic leadership whilst being a model is also a state of being, state of intent and a way of life.

Nick Howell brings transformational coaching and development to individuals, teams and organisations. Pragmatic learning and change that brings difference and growth. Things not working in your team? Performance not where it needs to be? Teams behaviours and dynamics feeling unhealthy? Needing to learn how to lead in these virtual times? Get in touch today to have a confidential and obligation-free chat – nick@abintus.co.uk or 07867 785314