One of the essential qualities of an authentic leader is that they understand their purpose. This implies that they have taken the time to look deep inside to gain a strong understanding of who they are, what they value, what they are passionate about, and what motivates them. Without having looked deeply into what drives them, many leaders quickly succumb to the power trip, driven by ego and the impulsiveness of a narcissist. Because no two people are exactly alike, I have discovered that while there is commonality among great leaders, the purpose for each person’s authentic leadership role is uniquely theirs. It is based upon their passion and their values.
This introspection is not necessarily an easy task, and often takes the longest time in discerning who you are willing to be, and where you want to work when you are being that. The key is to find an organization whose purpose and values mesh with yours. And, you may have to experience multiple organizational cultures before you find exactly the one that is right for you.
Leaders, in my mind, are defined by the strength of their values and their character. An authentic leader takes care to lead from the core of their personal beliefs and their values. These beliefs and values have been developed through continuous study, introspection, and a lifetime of experience and conferring with others. Authentic leaders have a profound awareness of doing what is right. They live in integrity with themselves, and their surroundings, a character trait that develops deep trust with their followers. This is the foundation of their moral fiber, and because of that they inspire others to take up the passion of common purpose.
Leaders… have a profound awareness of doing what is right.
A colleague recently said, “many leaders of today forget that without followers, you will never be a leader.” We see in many corporations throughout the world an ever expanding gulf between the “leaders” and their employees. I see leaders who have come up through the ranks without any clear understanding of their values. In fact, it is often unlikely that the subject was even brought up in the business schools and universities they attended. Some schools offer ethics courses, but the topic of ethics and values is rarely carried into the conversations held in corporate cultures, and is even more infrequently modeled by the leadership within those organizations. Employees struggle within these organizational cultures because this lack of integrity often translates into a lack of community, where not all people are perceived to have value and most do not share in the fruits of their joint labor in equal, or at least reasonable, proportion.
Many CEO’s today receive earnings between one hundred fifty to five hundred times their average employee’s wage. A common conversation that takes place when employees are laid off due to budget cuts to stem expense outlays is one of angst when they know that if the CEO would freeze or cut their own multi-million dollar salary and bonuses, by even fifty percent, that most or all employees could be retained to do the work required to sustain the organization. When leaders indulge themselves in behavior and actions such as these, they damage their reputation as leaders, and rapidly lose their followers. They are operating most often out of ego, not passion and purpose.
The danger of not being clearly grounded in your purpose and your values when you begin your path toward leadership is that you will not have the character to sustain your ability to lead when the going gets tough. Once you move away from your values and succumb to ego, even once, it becomes easier to make decisions that are not for the greater good of your employees, or the company.
As a leader, can you articulate the purpose for your leadership? What values do you hold that sustain and motivate your purpose and your passion?