Which way to Authentic Leadership?
Posted on June 12, 2013
Dave: In a recent workshop I was leading one of the participants asked: “What does authentic leadership REALLY mean?” As I opened my mouth to share my view it occurred to me that my view is just my view. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it, making my best effort to practice what I think it means. But do I really know what it means? So instead of answering with some nice, clean definition that might (or NOT…;-) sound like some HBR expert answer, I hesitated for a moment and then told the group (of 42 corporate leaders): “I’m not sure. I have some ideas. Authentic seems to me to suggest being who you are instead of trying to be like someone else. What do you all think?”
As you can imagine, a remarkable conversation was sparked. One of my take-aways was from someone who suggested separating authentic and leadership and thinking about the two concepts separately – before putting the two words together. Maybe when someone is authentic they may notice that they are not necessarily leading or behaving in a way that would be seen by others as leadership. So I’m still pondering this. What’s up with the two concepts and what occurs when we mash them together. What are your views, Luis?
Luis: Both are powerful concepts and they work together very well. I often work on executives’ authentic leadership as the best way for them to find the way forward. Authenticity is the best contribution any organisation might get from a person.
Stopping and reflecting what the terms mean is a better contribution than giving a clean definition. Both are kind of a personal journey, a mix of personal reflection and experience.
For me, authenticity relates to self and the use of self, leadership relates to others. Working with oneself, we become aware of ourselves, our emotions, our motives. Knowing ourselves allows us to relate to others in a much deeper way, developing empathy, understanding others, inspiring and developing people. We can manage relationships in a much richer way.
But I guess we have to offer a definition after all. I like Graham Lee’s. For him “authenticity implies someone whose whole way of being, doing and relating is concordant with his or her beliefs and values. It implies real depth of awareness about himself or herself, and a willingness and capacity to say things openly and boldly.”
Lee also points out that as the manager seeks to influence others, personal authenticity is not enough. Authenticity must be connected with the need to guide others in their actions or opinions in a way that is attuned to the organisation. Thus Authentic Leadership is conscious leadership.
Dave: I like the angle of authenticity looking inward at oneself – and leadership looking outward into one’s social system. I also like this idea that authenticity is not enough. This came out in the conversations we had last week in the workshop. Being authentic in leadership seems to imply this effort to connect with a social system and to influence that social system in some way.
I’d like to explore what you said about how knowing ourselves allows us to relate, empathize, understand, inspire and develop others in a different way. Maybe we can look into this more deeply in another post?
Luis: Of course, it will be a pleasure.