Strong leadership is critical to the sustained success of an organisation. For people, it is often a deciding factor in why we choose to work or stay or leave an organisation. And for managers, it’s what we strive to provide our teams to improve performance.
Increasingly, the defining factor for what sets apart the good and the great is not so much charisma or technical knowledge. Rather, what people are seeking from their leaders is something that many have been guilty of keeping hidden…it’s our true selves.
I’ve been asked quite a bit about this topic recently and I think it’s a sign of the times. To say we’ve all had an unpredictable last two years would be an understatement but it is a point raised in many studies. That is to say that, in times of uncertainty, people seek truth and genuineness. I’m here to unpack a little more of what it means to be an authentic leader and how you can work towards becoming one for your teams.
In times of uncertainty, employees turn to their leaders for authenticity.
What is Authentic Leadership?
Authentic Leadership stems from a style of leadership known as Transformational Leadership which is defined as“…when one or more personas engage with others such that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation & morality” (Burns, 1978, p. 20). Specifically, transformational leaders are concerned with developing their followers into leaders. Whilst authentic leaders instead promote authenticity amongst followers, develop enduring relationships with them, and influence them to become authentic (Gardner et al., 2005; Luthans & Avolio, 2003). In other words, a transformational-type leader who actually believes in what she espouses (Mack, Chron).
It’s a nice idea with the key phrase being ‘engages with’ and ‘authenticity’. What helps a leader to engage? Well, for more and more, it’s a notion of genuineness.
What exactly is meant by genuineness you say? Well for me it’s a combination of sincerity, honesty & integrity. Over the year’s we’ve seen some impressive examples. The likes of Martin Luther King, Jack Welch, Oprah & Steve Jobs have all been fine examples of authentic leaders. In other words, people who sought to bring their whole selves to their work.
Examples of authentic leaders
A more traditional style of leadership has been an authoritarian ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach which doesn’t quite reflect the interests of people who are increasingly seeking an intrinsic connection to their work. People today are looking for their workplace to mean something to them and that includes who they work for. In my view, authentic leadership is not something we are necessarily born with and it can absolutely be taught.
A few traits to keep in mind for what makes a great authentic leader. To be an authentic leader it’s important to be:
1. Self-aware & Genuine
2. Mission Focussed
3. Lead with the heart
4. Be focussed on the long term
How can you become more of an authentic leader?
Speak to colleagues for self-directed professional development.
3. Be interested
“Be interested, not interesting”
This is a great saying by Ash Barty’s mentor, Ben Crowe. Take time to ask questions of your people, learn about their interests and find ways to show them that you’ve remembered the stories they’ve shared. It’s a small point for you but it’s incredibly important for your team members to feel that they can relate to you as a leader. Equally important is their level of comfort in coming to work each day so consider ways to improve this so that your office is an inviting place to be.
Take the time to get to know your employees.
Communication is key.
Finally, one of the most important traits of being an authentic leader is always keeping the big picture in mind. In every exchange or engagement, a sign of authentic leadership is in your ability to maintain perspective on the greater goal at hand.
Leaving you with some great words from the authentic leader Jack Welch,
“Leadership very simply is about two things; truth & trust. Ceaselessly seeking the former and relentlessly building the latter”.