Authenticity is all around...
Authentic leadership contributes to the well-being and delivery of peak performance.
Authenticity is all around!
From the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral with the theme tune ‘Love is all around’, to 2019 where ‘Authenticity’ is all around. We are all talking about it, posting about it and even writing articles about it. BUT are we all walking the talk? Here’s my view on authentic leadership and why it is so important, along with how you can you be truly authentic.
I am drawn to Authentic Leadership because it is concerned with the performance of the leader from a human perspective: operating as a leader according to your values and beliefs. We are unique and can add value by being ourselves, in the context of great leadership capabilities, whether we are extrovert or introverted in our nature. We are shaped by our experience and ultimately our values and identity, and go on to shape and impact others.
What is authentic leadership?
Authentic leadership is being you and you only, however that is easier said than done. I use the following four attributes to help me align to myself and outwork this in my leadership. This is based on the Authentic Leadership Validation Scale (Walumbwa et al, 2008):
1. Self-awareness - being aware of our impact on others and mindful of our strengths and weaknesses.
2. Being transparent with people - creating an open and robust vulnerability - “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Brené Brown - 2010.
3. Internal moral compass - act to your values and beliefs.
4. Balanced processing - consider multiple perspectives prior to decision making, with a side hustle of empathy.
However, authenticity should not be an excuse for inappropriate behaviour in the work place, under the caveat of “I’m just being myself”. Within leadership, authenticity is fundamentally about core values, and having an awareness of the impact of your words/behaviour on others.
Self-awareness is key
I believe authenticity is critical for successful leadership. When you are self-aware you can articulate a wide range of knowledge about yourself, including your values, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, assumptions, personality and what may be informing your thinking, feelings, emotions and behaviours. You understand something about how your upbringing impacts and influences you as an adult (Bowlby, 1982). You know what triggers your emotional responses (Kets de Vries, 2008, p11). You know your strengths and current limitations, and you know how you want to develop yourself further. You have a strong sense of your own identity and you understand, appreciate and can articulate the diversity between yourself and others. You are aware of how you are different in a variety of contexts and you are aware of your impact on others. What you do with this awareness is key.
Self-awareness has been cited as the most important capability for leaders to develop, according to the authors of “How To Become a Better Leader,” (Toegel & Barsoux, 2012). As Kets de Vries says ‘greater self-awareness is the first step toward becoming more effective as a leader… leaders… have to look within...’ (Kets de Vries, 2008, p192).
A study also found that self-awareness impacts companies’ bottom line. In a study of the stock performance of 486 publicly traded companies, Zes (2013) found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies. This confirms that the key attribute a leader needs to have to be successful whether they base themselves on Trait, Situational or any one of the leadership theories, is self-awareness. Authentic leadership has self-awareness at the heart of the approach.
I believe that society desires authentic leaders, as transparency & integrity are some of the hallmarks of authentic leadership and are high on the agenda of any global company CSR strategy.
A common thread throughout my experience and reading is that powerful leadership occurs when a person’s professional intention aligns with their authentic self. Brené Brown (2010) describes authenticity in The Gifts of Imperfection, as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
In conclusion, authentic leadership creates authenticity in an organisation, and this contributes to the well-being and delivery of peak performance.
5 tips to increase your self-awareness, use these as mirrors on your life:
1. Get feedback from someone you trust and has your interest at heart. Ensure they are specific with you and clear on the observations they have made.
2. Psychometric tests, especially the 360 degree ones, are really helpful with the blind spots. Ensure you get a trained person to take you through them to get the best insight.
3. Look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. In this place you become more self-aware and resourceful, that is why we grow here.
4. Take time out to reflect on your day/week. Find a place/way where you can reflect, think and contemplate the situations you have been in and how you responded to them, also what you observed in others.
5. One-to-one coaching. Get yourself a qualified coach (either directly or through work), they will be able to unlock and deepen your understanding of yourself and get you to the core of who you are.
Hope you enjoyed,
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: VO1. 1. Attachment (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Kets de Vries, M. (2008). The Leader on the Couch: A clinical approach to changing people and organisations. (p11, 192). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Toegal, G., Barsoux, J.L. (2012). How to Become a Better Leader. MITSloan Management Review. Spring 2012. Research Feature. (https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-become-a-better-leader/)
Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), p89-126.
Zes, D. (2013). A Better Return on Self-Awareness. Briefings Magazine. Korn Ferry Institute. (https://www.kornferry.com/institute/better-return-self-awareness)