This is the second article in my series looking at the characteristics of High Impact Leaders: Leaders that make a difference. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/want-high-impact-leader-heres-what-takes-dr-steve-wyatt
There's a lot of talk about authenticity, what it is, how to develop it, whether it is helpful or harmful.....to illustrate I refer you to the recent debate between Adam Grant and Brene' Brown in New York Times."Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice".
However, from my experience High Impact Leaders understand who their inner-man (woman) is and they have arranged their leadership life to tap into and let the energy flow from that self understanding (so this is my definition of authenticity for leaders).
High Impact Leaders know what matters most to them, which contexts, relationships and activities energise them and which frustrate them and dissipate their energies. This self-understanding guides their actions, empowers them - and enables them to guide and empower those around them as well. To quote Bill George “Authentic leaders not only inspire those around them, they empower them to step up and lead authentically”.
High Impact Leaders understanding of their authentic self evolves over time, it is a process of self-examination and reflection of the ‘crucible moments’ in their life. They have “discovered, confronted and are willing to tell the truth about their ‘in authenticities’” (to quote Prof. Michael Jensen & Erhard). The process of self-discovery continues as a leader then strives to align their circumstances, relationships, actions and words with their authentic self. High Impact Leaders put their authenticity to use to have a positive impact on their organization or team in pursuit of the issues they care most about; letting their energy radiate out to motivate others around them.
Leadership authenticity connects strongly with Emotional Intelligence (Ref. Daniel Goleman: What makes a leader?). The five components of EI being Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills. Authentic leaders need to regulate their behaviour and interaction style dependent on the audience and message being delivered. To take this further, I quote Sir Alex Ferguson (the legendary manager of Manchester United football club, known for his highly authentic persona and his occasional brutal outbursts) “you have to match the message to the moment.”
Hence authenticity as a leader is about the inner core, knowing your internal energy source and aligning activities, relationships and behaviours to empower self and teams. However, some people define ‘authenticity’ to be a type of self-righteousness which can lead to speaking and acting in ways that the person deems are ‘authentic’ to themselves but which they accompany with the expectation that the organization or society accommodates them. Brazenly broadcasting about oneself and opinions without regard to the potential detriment of working relationships and team performance is not leadership authenticity!
In his recent post http://www.billgeorge.org/page/hbs-the-truth-about-authentic-leaders, Bill George reaffirms that authenticity is at the core of the leader, not only at the surface “Authentic Leaders, become skilled at tailoring their style to their audiences, imperatives of the situation, and readiness of their teammates to accept different approaches…..These flexible styles aren’t inauthentic if they come from a genuinely authentic place…. As leaders gain experience and develop greater self-awareness, they become more skilful in adapting their style, without compromising their character.”
To quote Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (Managing Authenticity: The paradox of great leadership); Leaders “often assume that authenticity is an innate quality—that a person is either authentic or not. In fact, authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you. No leader can look into a mirror and say, “I am authentic.” managers who exercise no control over the expression of their authentic selves get into trouble very quickly when they move into leadership roles.”
Undoubtedly the authenticity of a leader is important in Industrial Revolution 4.0, where the fluidity of contexts and relationships combines with a cacophony of voices and influences and uncertainty and ambiguity abound. Industrial Revolution 4.0 increases the need for a leader to be self-reflective, to seek out and nurture their inner source of energy such that they can guide and empower themselves and those around them. Unfortunately, in the social-media dominated context that we live in today it is too easy to select to be fed a torrent of ‘liked’ content, filtered to increase our sense of being right and potentially to drown out views that might stimulate our own self-reflection.
Not only do authentic leaders seek to be truthful about both their own personal contradictions (‘inauthenticities’ as Prof. Jensen calls them), they also actively seek to confront contradictions (inauthenticities) of their organization - weeding out falsehoods that undermine energy & performance. This is far from easy or immediate for the individual and is harder still for an organization. To illustrate:
Several years ago an American MNC appointed a new president for the Asia-region. After being appalled by the results of an Employ Engagement survey he setup initiatives to promote empowerment of middle management and to encourage cross department / cross BU collaboration. However, at the same time, cautious of business practices in Asia, he deployed Internal Audit teams to finely comb through the organization and ensure strict policy compliance; he also encouraged whistle-blowing and tightened the need for senior executives to sign-off any exceptions. The result was that managers became afraid to take initiative and openly discussed that compliance had become more important than business performance. The energy drained out of the organization. Not surprisingly the new president’s initiatives for Employee Engagement and cross department collaboration had little impact and his credibility was weakened.
An increasingly discussed aspect of authenticity – is achieving personal balance, being centred. Leaders suffer from great stress and as such must build resilience through ensuring balance in all the key areas of their life; imbalance will lead to destabilisation. (Ref. Caroline Webb author of “How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioural Science to Transform Your Working Life”). Just as the leader must discover and tap into their inner core for the source of energy to support their drive to achieve the goals that matter most to them, they must also preserve well-being and nurture energy through investing in balance and resilience in all aspects of their life; Physical health, Emotional health, Spiritual health, Financial health. The leader must inspire and provide energy for the organization, to do this continuously they must invest in protecting their own sources of energy. Leaders who do not maintain integral health are likely to underperform over the long term and they may also find themselves vulnerable to pressures, relationships and situations that challenge the ethical value of their behaviour.
Authentic leaders inspire and empower others, they understand and tap into their internal sources of energy and they seek to align their context, relationships and activities to empower themselves and the teams around them. The authenticity of a High Impact Leader comes from aligning their actions and relationships with the source of energy in their inner core. They adjust their external self to “match the message to the moment”, whilst retaining the authenticity that empowers themselves and others.
Quick Check: What is it like in your organization? Are contradictions discovered, discussed and confronted in an open manner? Is there alignment of behaviours with core values and sources of motivation? Does the leadership propagate self-reflection in pursuit of strengthening leadership capability?
Snap to Action: Can you think of any contradiction in the behaviour of the organization? Poll the employee and management populations with an online survey, ask them to describe their experiences - and then show action on key contradictions that are identified.
This is the 2nd post in: High Impact Leaders: Leaders that make a difference
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A business consultant and educator; focusing on global and regional firms operating in multiple fast changing contexts. Dr. Steve has consulted with major corporations on strategies and operations globally, Asia, Western Europe and UK. Dr. Steve is also an accomplished executive trainer and educator, with particular depth of experience in business strategy and management practice in Asia.