We have all worked with them. The efficient, colorless, shallow, well dressed, unemotional, polite Managers. The ones who never have a strong opinion about anything, who never admit to faults, who rarely ‘open up”, who don’t have a sense of fun or humour, who never show genuine care or concern or connect with colleagues. The ones you never really know much about. The inscrutable ones in meetings about whom you think – “What the F###k is he thinking??”
The big problem is that if you are not authentic the chance of becoming (or remaining) a successful Leader are usually crap.
Because leadership is a lot about inspiration and engagement. Which in turn is about authenticity.
I see the power of authenticity when I teach or mentor students or when I speak to an audience. My style is engaging, bold, opinionated, funny and open. I hold contrarian views. I laugh at myself. I narrate the times when I broke down and cried when I reached a mountain summit. The raw, seminal moments that led me to quit corporate life and become an entrepreneur. I often talk about the dreadful mistakes I made in my career and in studies and how others can learn from these. I never fake perfection, omniscience or invincibility. And this works brilliantly all the time.
Look at the recent UK elections. One major reason why Theresa May lost the majority was because of her personality. Readers of The Guardian were asked in June 2017 to sum her up in one word and their responses were devastating:
More recently, she was blasted for her robotic appearance at the Grenfell Tower after the fire, in sharp contrast to the empathetic behaviour of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In other words, she showed a total lack of authenticity.
So what IS authenticity?? Authentic leaders have four special traits. They are:
Self-aware and genuine: Aware of their strengths, limitations, and emotions. They also show their real selves to their followers. They do not act one way in private and another in public
Mission driven and focused on results: They are able to put the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest
Lead with their heart: They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees
Focus on the long-term: They focus on long-term shareholder value, not in just beating quarterly estimates
Authentic leaders are relatable and likeable. We see ourselves in them, rather than in those that fake perfection. Inauthentic leaders are distrusted, ignored or derided, much like Lip Syncing singers or Photoshopped Pics.
It’s about revealing who you are and what you are; your identity. Note- You’ve got to be careful not to take this too far though. Donald Trump may sound authentic, but whether he is inspirational or leader-like is highly debatable.
So why don’t more Managers try to be genuine?
The biggest factor is the Individual. If you don’t believe in authenticity, you won’t demonstrate or appreciate that in others.
The other factor is the company culture. If you work in a firm that doesn’t encourage authenticity you won’t open up. If the company insists on tight conformity (as many large firms/multinationals do), most people clam up and lose their personality.
And how do you become authentic? There are lots of definitions of authentic leadership floating around on the Web.
But the one that reasonates with me was given by Bill George of Harvard Business School. His advice:
Develop EQ:The essence of authentic leadership is emotional intelligence. . In contrast to IQ, which basically does not change in one’s adult lifetime, EQ can be developed. The first and most important step is gaining self-awareness.
Explore yourself, your life stories, and your experiences: You develop deeper understanding of yourself and feel increasingly comfortable being authentic.
Seek honest feedback: Not from the Ass Kissers, but from “truth tellers,” who give you candid critiques
Engage in reflection: by taking time every day to step back from the 24/7 world. Meditation, mindfulness, prayer, long walks to clear one’s mind, or simply sitting quietly and reflecting - all help.
Understand your leadership purpose: the unique gifts you bring to leadership challenges. Then you can align others with your purpose in order to create positive impact. This is far more important than focusing entirely on achieving success in metrics like money, fame and power
It doesn’t always mean Be Yourself: Authentic leaders monitor their words and behaviors carefully. They do so because they are sensitive to the impact their words and actions have on others, not because they are “messaging” the right talking points.
In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, two McKinsey & Co consultants, brought out a bestseller titled “In Search of Excellence”. In a world bursting with fake and unreliable leaders and despairing followers, it’s high time we went in search of authenticity.