What is authentic leadership? That sure is an interesting question isn’t it? I’ve just spent the last 30mins or so reading the definition on Wikipedia. Here’s the crux of the definition…’consensus appears to be growing that authentic leadership includes these distinct qualities:
- Self-awareness: An ongoing process of reflection and re-examination by the leader of his or her own strengths, weaknesses, and values
- Relational Transparency: Open sharing by the leader of his or her own thoughts and beliefs, balanced by a minimization of inappropriate emotions
- Balanced Processing: Solicitation by the leader of opposing viewpoints and fair-minded consideration of those viewpoints
- Internalized Moral Perspective: A positive ethical foundation adhered to by the leader in his or her relationships and decisions that is resistant to outside pressures
It strikes me that there’s a big paradox to this…if we go some way to defining a set of qualities that means one is an authentic leader, wouldn’t that be inauthentic?
For me authentic is being real, being yourself, showing one’s humanity – whatever that is – and this will be different from one leader to the next. For this is humanity, we are all different and bring our own uniqueness to the table. How can a set of pre-defined behaviours or values be authentic?
Funny things is, as I type this I’m thinking am I being authentic in writing this article? The truth is I read ‘balanced by a minimisation of inappropriate emotions’ and I thought no way! How would that ever be authentic if one is minimising their emotions? What’s inappropriate, isn’t that subjective (especially to the context)? I felt incredibly sad as I read this – for my hope is a world of leadership where leaders show more emotion, more humanity – not less.
I say this because my hope for leadership is a greater realness and openness – not where leaders are subscribed to a ‘model’ but where they are self-empowered to be themselves more of the time. Each of us knows what this is, because only we can know in our hearts when we are being truly authentic.
The biggest challenge I work on with clients and in my own leadership is dropping the pretence, the personas we carry or get into that prevent us from showing who we essential are. When we do this, it’s our pretence that is in a relationship with others, our team or our stakeholders and thus in many cases to maintain the relationship means maintaining the facade. I know for myself there can be a lot of loneliness in that arena.
I say this my friends as I have learnt through many years of transformational development that when I get back to being who I am, more and more of me grows, comes forward, get released, energised, creative. It’s fucking amazing!! How’s that for authenticity?!
Here’s my three C’s then, the qualities I’ve learnt and been developing (a never ending journey):
- Confidence – it takes esteem in one’s own skin, purpose, self value to develop the confidence to show authenticity, more of the time…especially when others are not. I can role model authenticity by being willing to be myself no matter what and forgive myself when I forget
- Courage – oh yes, it can take uncopious amounts of courage at times for me to be authentic…show my humanity, especially vulnerability. Every time I do there’s another level to go for…
- Commitment – it takes a solid, powerful purpose to commit to being more authentic more of the time. Especially when the going gets tough, when old thinking and behaviours are challenged.
I wondered as I’m coming to the end of sharing my thoughts – if authenticity is a bit like art (I remember reading a quote once in one of my coaching theory books)
‘Once we define art, it isn’t art anymore.’
In some ways being authentic seems to me to be how I am at any given moment, with or without a mask, just as I am right now…