Authentic leaders are people of extraordinary integrity, with a profound sense of purpose and willingness to live by their core values.
William James once said “I have often thought that the best way to define a (wo)man’s character is to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon them, they felt themselves most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says ‘This is the real me.’ ”
The term authentic leadership came to me via a client. She is a student, in the process of receiving her Master’s degree in Leadership. She asked me what model of leadership I followed, and I was hard pressed to explain that to her, and a lengthy conversation ensued. I have often talked of character-based leadership, and servant leaders, but had never heard the term “authentic leadership”. So, I did what I do best – I set out to find out what it means, and what golden nuggets I could glean by doing a little research. I discovered that perhaps the concept of character-based leadership and authentic leadership are one and the same, with a little bit of servant leadership thrown in.
Authentic leaders, according to Bill George, genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference; more than they are interested in power, money or prestige for themselves. They are guided equally by the heart and the mind – practicing heart-based guidance grounded in passion and compassion, as well as thoughtful leadership grounded in the qualities of the mind. They lead with purpose, meaning and values. And their people relationships are extremely strong. People follow them because they are consistent, reliable and strong. When they are pushed to go beyond their beliefs and values, they will not compromise. They are dedicated to personal growth and learning because they believe that becoming a leader takes a lifetime.
It seems that my “model” or “style” of leadership is born from the Georgia Feiste College of Lessons Learned. As with all of my beliefs, I look at many alternatives, and pick out the pieces that make the most sense to me, and run with that. Once I have done that, if I feel the need to find a like-minded community, I watch for a group of people who believe MOST of the same things I do. With that, I may claim a model – or I may not.
What I have found is that it is important for me to be self-directed and independent in my thinking, and stay consistent with my personality and my values. When I pay too much attention to what everyone else wants me to be, I feel like my head is spinning on my shoulders and my feet come out from under me. One of my strengths is being able to stand alone if it is something I truly believe in. Another is in having taken the time to work on my relationship building skills, my people skills – if you will, through my coaching studies and practice. It is in being able to see the beauty in all different types of people, and to be able to work in different environments and situations. This does not mean I create differing roles. What it means is that different situations require different skills and choices that need to be made.
Another aspect of this is in recognizing and embracing my weaknesses as well as using my strengths, and oftentimes acknowledging that they are at times two sides to the same coin. For example, I don’t believe we get very far when the text of our conversation is subtle, which often leads to a lack of tact. People have told me forever that I intimidate them – mostly because they are less confident of their abilities. I make decisions quickly and like to keep moving; flip that to I often get impatient with those who move more slowly. Having embraced my shadow side, I understand that it has often helped me be successful. Paying attention to the people I interact with has helped me soften the edges to make sure that people are feeling that they have been heard, and are fully engaged.
Yes, if I define my leadership style in the context of what is presented here, and the coaching that I do around leadership – I believe I can claim the authentic leadership model as my basis of leading. And, since I believe that life is about the lessons learned each and every day, I may augment at will. That is what makes it authentically and uniquely mine.
How do you define Authentic Leadership?