CEO's Speak On Leadership
Our series on the qualities of leadership continues with an exploration of authenticity. Webster defines authentic as "worthy of acceptance or belief, conforming to fact or reality, trustworthy, not imaginary, false or imitation." Our sense of people's authenticity has an enormous impact on how much we trust them, how comfortable we are with them and how willing we are to follow them. It is clear then why authenticity is so important to be an effective leader.
What are the consequences when a leader is perceived as not being authentic? There is a significant impact on trust. People are less likely to volunteer ideas or information the leader needs to know. They are more likely to question the motives of the leader. They are less likely to give that leader their all. These undercurrents sap the energy of any group or organization. The trust and camaraderie that provide emotional and spiritual fuel have a hard time blossoming in this kind of environment.
What causes leaders to be inauthentic? Some possibilities include personality traits, family and cultural conditioning. Some people come across as guarded or secretive because they are naturally cautious or reserved. This tends to make people uncomfortable when that person is the formal leader because they wonder what he or she is thinking or feeling. Individuals in leadership positions who have this kind of personality do well to consider ways to reduce this uneasiness in others. Finding ways to communicate that are comfortable for all involved makes a significant positive impact as can increasing the amount of communication if it has previously been sparse.
Cultural conditioning from our old hierarchical models can cause some leaders, especially those in formal management positions, to believe that to be genuine and vulnerable is a sign of weakness. Coupled with that is a belief that they must know, or at least look like they know, all the answers. But this is not the source of power of really effective leaders. Ultimately, leadership is more about who you are than what you know. In Enlightened Leadership, Ed Oakley and Doug Krug suggest that "The innate abilities to be enlightened leaders are already within us. We just have to drop our protective barriers, be who we really are, and let those natural abilities surface." Some of the CEO's interviewed had this to say about authenticity as a trait of leaders.
L. B. "Bud" Mingledorff, President, Mingledorff's Inc.,
"Authenticity means not being plastic, not being some artificial creation. I think authenticity is a vital, essential piece of integrity and that goes back to trust and respect. I don't think leaders can be effective leaders if they are not authentic. If people detect that you are not who you say you are, then you're dead."
Ulf Petersson, President, Megadoor, Inc., Peachtree City
"I think authenticity is part of integrity. Being genuine, not manipulating, being true to yourself and your beliefs, not putting up a fašade and not being unreachable. When leaders are not authentic and try to create an image I think people are too smart for that and they see straight through it. Everybody is vulnerable. Nobody is superman. Hopefully, we are not putting in place as leaders people who think they are supermen. I think too that the more self-confidence you have the easier it is to be vulnerable. Being self-confident also means that people can critique you and you will not be defensive and you will take it very constructively the way it's meant to be. Then you can know that it's maybe not who you are, but what you are doing, and what you are doing you can change. I also think that it's extremely important that leaders share with their people how they feel and what they think. You can share feelings without getting too personal."
Dave Schmit, Senior Vice President, Morrison Homes
"Authenticity works hand in hand with passion because you can't manifest passion without authenticity. It just won't fly. I also think that leaders are respected in part because they are genuine, authentic and want to share something positive with you and help you in some way."
To grow as leaders, we must be constantly growing ourselves. On your journey as a leader, ask yourself:
What are my beliefs about what it takes to be a good leader?
What are my beliefs and expectations about myself as a leader?
Am I willing and able to be open, authentic and vulnerable?
Do I have healthy self-esteem and self-confidence that allow me to be genuinely open to feedback and to the risk of making mistakes?
Do my communication style and frequency convey my views as leader clearly and honestly?
As the poet Robert Burns said, "Would that God the gift would give us to see ourselves as others see us." This is not a path for the faint of heart, but it is a most rewarding and powerful one.
N.B. This article was originally published in Competitive Edge Magazine.
Marie J. Kane has been an executive coach and corporate consultant for 20 years. She specializes in innovative approaches to executive development with a special emphasis on individual and group virtual coaching. She is the author of a comprehensive team assessment and development process, creator of "The Leader's Way" executive development program and a co-creator of an integrated strategic and operational planning process as well as offering state-of-the-art employee selection and development systems integrated with performance management and organizational culture. Marie may be reached at Marie@executiveevolution.com , and visit www.executiveevolution.com for additional information.