What is Authentic Leadership?

What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership can be defined as an approach to leadership that emphasizes building leaders’ legitimacy on an ethical foundation, through honest relationships with followers who value their input. While Authentic Leadership is still a growing area of academic research, the concept of authenticity can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Ancient Greek philosophers stressed authenticity as an important state of being in control of one’s own life.

Know Thyself – Socrates.

Recently, Authentic Leadership has received more attention because of publications from Harvard professor and former Medtronic CEO, Bill George.

How to become an authentic leader?

When asked about how people can become an authentic leader in order to better serve in a community or company, Bill shared the following advice:

1.    Know yourself. Develop self-awareness.

2.    Accept yourself, have self-compassion for your weaknesses, whatever they are.

3.    Acknowledge your life crucibles.

4.    Be yourself – don’t copy other leaders.

5.    Get clarity on your True North or your purpose in life. Ask yourself how you can make a difference in the world, through your work.

How to find my True North?

When asked about how people can find their True North, Bill shared the following advice:

1.    Review your whole life story and examine the high points and low points in depth.

2.    Review the greatest crucibles in your life and reflect on the lessons learnt.

3.    Identify your beliefs, your core values and principles.

According to Bill, by answering those questions one is able to build a foundation to find their true north.

The Authentic Leadership Theory is still evolving, and while there are divergences on what makes an Authentic Leader, the following principles are agreed on by most scholars:

The 4 components of Authentic Leadership:

  • Self-awareness | An ongoing process of reflection and re-examination by the leader of their own strengths, weaknesses and values.
  • Relational transparency | Open sharing by the leader of their own thoughts and believes.
  • Balanced processing | Solicitation by the leader of opposing viewpoints and fair-minded consideration of those viewpoints
  • Internalised moral perspective | A positive ethical foundation inherited by the leader in his or her relationships and decisions, that is resistant to outside pressures.

8 Characteristics of an Authentic Leader:

  • They are true to themselves (rather than conforming to the expectations of others).
  • They possess high levels of self-knowledge and self-regulation.
  • They are motivated by personal values and convictions, rather than to attain status, honours, or other personal benefits.
  • They are self-aware, which means they understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and motives, as well as recognizing how others view their leadership.
  • They are transparent and comfortable enough to disclose their personal opinions and experiences even if that leads to being vulnerable.
  • They are ethical, sincere and genuine. Their behaviours are guided by internal moral standards and values, rather than external pressure.
  • They promote openness by building trust and enthusiastically supporting their people.
  • They identify strongly with their leadership role.

An Aussie perspective

Nicholas Barnett, CEO of InSync, illustrated the concept of Authentic Leadership with the following analogy. Imagine you are back in Roman times: if you bought an inauthentic sculpture, then as soon as the weather was warmer the sculpture would start to leak out some wax, exposing the cracks and imperfections that could not be detected previously. Therefore, buyers became savvy and started to request their statues be put under fire to check if they were the real thing or not. Nicholas’s view is that while some leaders have their weaknesses glossed over and therefore look good on the outside, they can’t actually withstand challenge and pressure.

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