The importance of authentic leadership
Ravit Oren, July 16, 2019
While being an authentic leader can be difficult, the combination of a professional approach with the expression of our unique personality can help organisations thrive
A broad phenomenon that characterises many managers is a lack of authenticity. Bill George, a Harvard University leadership scholar and the author of Authentic Leadership, identifies five categories of inauthentic managers:
The Impostors – managers without self-awareness and self-esteem.
Rationalists – managers who move away from their values and tell themselves 'rational lies' to justify their behaviour.
Pursuers of glory – managers motivated solely by self-aggrandising.
Loners – managers who do not know how to build relationships, which are essential for authentic leadership.
The fallen stars – managers without a balanced life outside of work.
Inauthentic management takes a mental and economic toll. On an emotional level it is all-consuming. The need to put on a mask at work causes cognitive tension, physical and mental exhaustion, and loss of vitality and motivation. In the long term these effects harm the organisation's productivity and profitability.
Neuroscience studies show that it is not always easy to be authentic. The human brain is built in the form of a double-wired system. The first system encourages people to behave as expected and to say the words that listeners want to hear. It forces us to conformity and belonging, which are natural and normative components of ordinary human instinct. The second system meets the need for individuality and allows us to think in an original and different way. Authenticity is based on a delicate balance between the two.
The same is true for management. Leaders often face an internal struggle between 'me the person' and 'the expected role of me as a leader'. Authentic leadership happens when these two concepts (which sometimes contradict one another) intertwine in one holistic mesh of 'I, the leader'. Thus most leaders want to leave behind a legacy that reflects the authenticity of their role. But to do so they must adapt their behaviours to processes, outputs, and bottom lines that are binding.
Managers who operate through a balanced authenticity are connected to their personal values through inner truth. They act out of a passion for their professional worldview, harnessing their surroundings and inspiring positive work. They develop pleasant relationships and work environments based on trust, confidence and optimism. Employees and teams respond well to them and are willing to go above and beyond their job description for them. All this transforms good managers into excellent leaders, which produces increased output, higher profit margins and creates new generations of authentic leaders.
The combination of a professional approach with the expression of our unique personality is the basis for an authentic and evolving leadership that over time makes us a significant component of the organisation's continued development.
To become an authentic leader you must:
1. Aim towards the end goal
As a leader your goal is to guide your people professionally while maintaining honest communication, being supportive and focused on results. Gently find the right ways to create trusting relationships with your teams while directing them towards meeting organisational goals.
2. Strengthen fundamental values
Although different leaders have different values, all authentic leaders must adhere to a number of common values: to speak the truth, to act ethically, to be oriented towards results and success, and to lead workers to personal and professional development. Even when striving for the best results, do not allow these aspirations to come at the expense of your team’s confidence and sense of competence.
3. Maintain self-discipline
Authentic leaders always act with strong self-discipline. For each task they will concentrate on the important aspects while being sensitive to the needs of others, but won’t lose focus or professionalism. To inspire others, set an example and act with iron discipline. This is a condition and basis for good leadership.
4. Lead with the heart
True leaders don’t need authority or masks to motivate work processes. They are self-confident and conduct themselves in the organisation with an open heart and a positive engaging attitude. Leadership of the heart doesn’t make us weak. On the contrary it helps us inspire employees and instil confidence, strength and motivation to meet goals.
Ravit Oren is an organisational leadership expert, an academic lecturer and researcher, a corporate HR executive, a public representative of the Israeli Labor Court and a board member in public and governmental companies