Authentic Leadership = Success
Since the beginning of time, success has been linked to leadership. However, in my view the term “leadership” is used too generically and without real meaning. With the exponential rise in e-learning there are a multitude of “off the shelf” leadership courses, numerous books and a myriad of articles - but how do we know which style of leadership is most impactful and why.
If you’ve studied management or leadership, you’ll have come across the most common types of leadership and may identify with one or more of them:
Autocratic – also known as authoritarian leadership, where decisions are made based upon the leader's own ideas and judgements, with little input from group members.
Bureaucratic – a rules based style of leadership where the leader makes the decisions and rules from a place of hierarchy and authority.
Charismatic– a personality based style of leadership where the leader uses their charm, persuasiveness and personality to inspire and motivate group members to follow.
Democratic – a respect based and inclusive style of leadership where group members are encouraged to take a more participative role in decision making.
Laisez-faire – a hands off, delegative style of leadership, where group members are left to make their own decisions.
Servant leadership – an employee first style of leadership, where the leader is driven to serve its employees by developing them to their fullest potential.
Situational leadership – a flexible style of leadership, where the leader adapts their style and behaviours to meet the needs and priorities of the people and /or the organisation at any given time.
Transactional – also known as managerial leadership, results based style of leadership focussed upon more traditional managerial principles of reward and punishment in an attempt to motivate followers.
Transformational – a change focused style of leadership where leaders create a vision of positive change that group members aspire to and believe in, therefore follow.
As an expert and champion for Authentic Leadership in high achieving women it astounds me that we rarely hear about “authentic” leadership.
So why is this and what does it really mean…?
With the focus on business results, it’s likely that the connection between authentic leadership and success isn’t fully understood, or perhaps authenticity is not perceived as a strong or powerful enough personality trait in business.
So, here’s my definition of authentic leadership:
“An Authentic Leader is unafraid to be their 'real self' and strives to develop others to be their best selves by building relationships based upon honesty, trust and integrity, to strengthen the human connection.”
Why is authenticity critical to success?
Being truly authentic creates success, not only for individuals, but for organisations too. Authentic leaders bring their whole selves to work and play full out and honestly. By being real and building deep connections, these leaders inspire others to follow them, look up to and to want to learn from them. It’s not what they do, but how they make their followers feel. Time and time again we see organisations with successful leaders outperform their competitors because they have higher levels of engagement and trust within the workplace, which ultimately increases productivity and growth. But we rarely attribute this success to the “authenticity" of the leader.
Sadly though, many leaders are not truly authentic. They behave differently in the workplace than at home – they wear a mask to personify what they believe the organisation expects from them. This can stem from unconscious biases that exist in the workplace as well as the organisational culture – the norms and expectations that have been created over time and that they feel they have to live up to. It can cause them to dress, speak or behave in a certain way, in order to be seen as credible, professional or to be successful that goes against their own values.
Leaders who struggle to be authentic can eventually feel burned out, unhappy and out of alignment with their true values, priorities, hopes and dreams. The energy they expend trying to come across as something they’re not can result in them being disengaged, less productive or so unhappy that they eventually leave the organisation. Research from the Centre for Creative Leadership, concludes that one of the reasons women in particular, leave organisations, is so that they can be their true authentic selves.
“It’s difficult to develop your capabilities when you are suppressing your true values and your style is distracted by inner conflict.”
The key to success for organisations is to establish an inclusive culture that promotes authenticity and actively supports and develops authentic leaders.
How to recognise an authentic leader:
Self-aware – they know what they stand for and share it with their team. They lead by example and acknowledge their own strengths and limitations.
Empathetic – they’re sensitive to and able to understand others’ thoughts and feelings, as if they were their own.
High Integrity – they know what the right thing to do is and will do it, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Genuine – they care for themselves and their followers. They lead from their heart.
Transparent – they’re open and honest in their communications. They’re willing to share their own experiences, successes and failures. True to their values, they’re not afraid to admit when they don’t know something.
Positive – they have a glass half full attitude and can see the silver lining under any cloud.
Balanced – they consider inputs from all viewpoints before making decisions and are objective.
Purpose – they know their own purpose and passion and make it a priority to practice ongoing self-reflection and self-awareness.
Values – they understand the link between purpose and passion by being congruent in their beliefs and actions.
How can I be more authentic and successful?
Increase your self-awareness – what are your values, beliefs, likes, dislikes – what do you want to be known for?
Align your behaviours to your values – you may need to make trade-offs – what are you willing to change or give up in order to achieve what’s most important to you?
Take action – start by taking small baby steps to align your behaviours to your values (resist the temptation to make big changes all at once).
Get support – share your goals with those you trust and that will support you.
“At the centre of your being you have the answer. You know who you are and you know what you want.”
Becoming truly authentic and daring to show your real self takes time and involves taking risks. But trust in your own instincts and have faith in yourself – if it’s one of your core values, you can and will get there and be wildly successful.
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