ThinkPieces

Authentic Leadership

We have all been around those extraordinary people who excel in their careers, but don’t make enemies doing it. They care about people but manage to stretch them at the same time; and their vision and dedication create a slipstream which others can’t help but join. They are respected, and engender trust and enthusiastic followership. It’s just easy to buy into who they are, and what they are about: in good times and bad times. They are authentic leaders.

Our very own Advocate Thuli Madonsela tweeted the following the other day: The beauty of living authentically is that when your outer world does not make sense your inner being quietly assures you
that all is well.

Authenticity has been defined as ‘the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.’ Can you imagine how peaceful and unconflicted that would feel? Authentic leadership was introduced as a concept by Bill George in his book "Authentic Leadership" (2003). George proposes that this leadership style displays behaviours that resonate with a leaders' personality and core values, and that are honest, ethical and practical. He describes the five qualities of an authentic leader as: understanding your purpose, practicing your values, leading with your heart, establishing connected relationships and demonstrating self-discipline.
As desirable as they are, these behaviours are not as easy as they look. Even ancient Greek Philosophers espoused the development of cardinal virtues – those being Prudence (wisdom and fairness), Temperance (being emotionally under control), Justice, and Fortitude (courage). Despite the centuries that have passed, we still want to live out these same values, but they are as elusive as ever. Why is that? I think a lot of it is about not just doing, but being.
What are the things we all notice about authentic leaders? What behaviours or habits come naturally to them? Here are six to start with:

  1. They demonstrate self-awareness. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are ok with being a ‘work in progress’. They are aware of how they are coming across, and they don’t make excuses when they mess up.
  2. They are curious about others. They listen well and are able to suspend judgment.
    Extraordinary skills indeed!
  3. You can feel that they are being genuine. What does this mean? You know you can trust what they say. You feel safe, even when they are calling you out about something. You aren’t concerned about a ‘hidden agenda’; and you are comfortable being vulnerable with them.
  4. They lead with passion, not just with intellect or from their ‘position’. This passion is expressed in a compelling vision. It’s easy to follow them, because deep down, you know that you believe what they believe.
  5. They blaze new trails without being impulsive or reckless. Bold decisions and moves are made, following careful planning and a balanced consideration of alternatives. On their watch, organisational growth and employee empowerment are prioritized together, so that everyone benefits from each win.
  6. There is clearly a moral compass underpinning their actions and decisions. This ethical foundation stands the test of pressure or disapproval. They practice what they preach and are ready to put themselves on the line in the pursuit of their goals. Someone once put it this way: they are driven to motion by their ‘inner motor’, not by external triggers.

How about you and I? How do we measure up? What do people notice about our leadership style, and have we had the courage to hear their feedback? What needs to happen inside of us, on a being level, in order for these behaviours to be our norm? Reflection, brave introspection, and patient practice will enable the shifts required to live from a strong core of authentic leadership values. It happens from the inside out.

Something to tweet about:

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