Authentic Leadership – the missing ingredient in Leadership Development

Authentic Leadership – the missing ingredient in Leadership Development

Leaders have the potential to influence their employees to go well beyond their own expectations and achieve success.  When such influence is experienced positively by employees the results are measurably beneficial to a business or organisation.  Measures of employee engagement, resilience and mental health, commitment, innovation, and performance all increase, and subsequently have a healthy impact on the bottom line.  Sounds simple doesn’t it!  Positive influence by leaders equals a wealth of good results. 

So why is this story so infrequently told across corporate Australia?  Workplace disengagement is high and rising, as are measures of stress and bullying claims.  Change fatigue has become overbearing for many, employee satisfaction is declining, and increasing pressure and difficulties in balancing work and life demands are commonplace. So what’s going wrong?

Maybe a clue to what’s missing is evident in what we are seeing right before our eyes - the behaviour of leaders that dismay us, in politics, in sport and in business.  We read about it in the papers on a near daily basis.  We see some of our leaders in sport prepared to compromise player welfare to win, we see some of our politicians more concerned about retaining power than committing to a vision and we see some of our business and community leaders more focused on short term personal gain than developing the people and communities around them.   Maybe what’s missing is Authentic Leadership.

Being authentic is about not putting on a front.  It’s being real.  We know that both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have been accused of not showing us their true selves.  “Only believe what is scripted” said Abbott, and “now you’ll see the real Julia” said Gillard.  As examples, Barrack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull don’t seem to have the same issue.  Their authenticity shows through.    

Authentic leaders are highly self aware and transparent.  They let their followers get to know them and what they stand for, and they ensure their actions are in alignment with their words.  They are committed to a purpose that aligns with their values and they demonstrate a commitment to realising that purpose ahead of short term convenience.   They bring people along with them by inspiring them to make a difference and choose a values driven outcome over self focused expediency.  Importantly they create the conditions that allow both the people and organisations they work for to perform at their best and to succeed.    

How to be more authentic

So from a practical perspective what can you as a leader do to be more authentic?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Build your self-awareness.  Great leaders understand who they are, what their purpose is, and what they stand for.  Spend time understanding who and what influences you as a leader, get to know your strengths as much as your blind spots and know your best skills in building strong and connected relationships with others.
  2. Authentic leaders lead with their hearts and are strongly connected to what makes them passionate about leadership.  Find what you are passionate about, the difference you want to make and understand how you can best communicate and inspire others through this.
  3. As problems arise and mistakes play out, own up to what you can do differently next time and the steps you will take to make the changes.  Importantly, this includes changes to your own way of going about things.  Make sure people see evidence of the change.
  4. Above all else focus on consistency.  People trust their leaders when they see many repeated instances of the same kind of response to any given situation.  For example, when leaders repeatedly respond calmly and seek to understand rather than blame when mistakes arise.  Repeated behaviour of this type provides ‘proof’ of who you are, which provides enormous comfort to employees.    

Whilst there is often a lot of focus in leadership and management development programs on building specific business capabilities such as strategic thinking, change management and stakeholder management skills, we must remember that a central part of leadership is about the ability to influence followers.  Authentic Leadership research tells us that successful influence comes when followers identify the authentic traits in those they chose to follow. As such maybe our Leadership & Management development programs need to go a little deeper into helping participants develop these traits and utilise them more pervasively. It may be the difference your organisation is looking for.

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Guest Saturday, 21 July 2018