Since our first published article in January 2001, weLEAD has become one of the most comprehensive leadership, and management development websites on the Internet! We offer free access to approximately 1000 leadership articles, monthly tips, book reviews and a semi-annual peer-reviewed E-Journal to promote leadership training, and management development. In association with Leadership Excellence, Ltd., weLEAD also provides keynote speakers, servant leadership seminars, workshops, business and personal coaching. We are committed to the ideal that great leaders are forged by knowledge, opportunity, experience and self-sacrifice. weLEAD is an organization developed by leaders, to promote positive leadership development in individuals, and organizations.
Authentic leadership is a concept both highly revolutionary and extremely practical. It values personal virtue above selfish interests and emphasizes the importance of a leader’s words matching their actions. So why are there so many critics of a leadership style that has as its very foundation a focus on morality? Bill George, a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and author of Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets of Lasting Value and True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, introduced authentic leadership in 2003 in the wake of such corporate scandals as Enron, WorldComm, Tyco, and Freddie Mac. George offered the antidote to morally-challenged corporate leaders, authentic leadership.
As it happens with innovative concepts that provide answers to complex moral questions, critics of this theory soon emerged objecting almost entirely based on the word “authentic.” After all, what does it really mean to be “authentic?” Following an exhaustive dictionary and thesaurus evaluation, the following represent the most common synonyms: genuine, real, true veritable, reliable, dependable, trustworthy, authoritative, faithful. So again, I ask, why the issue with George’s use of the word “authentic” in describing leadership? Answer: key critics of authentic leadership tend to conflate the word “authentic” with the impulse individuals possess to say or do everything on their minds.
However, demonstrating sound judgment in knowing when to say or not say what’s on your mind isn’t inauthentic, it’s wise. But what are the keys to seeking an authentic leadership style? Though not a comprehensive list of authentic leadership qualities, the following represent tangible methods any aspiring authentic leader can employ.
Self-regulation is one of the foremost keys to developing this leadership style. Embracing one’s unique personality and experiences is as authentic as demonstrating self-control when dealing with personal relationships. Ultimately, both qualities begin with effective self-evaluation.
Self-evaluation is extremely difficult but mastering such a discipline is a key component to authentic leadership. The process of self-evaluation benefits both the individual personally and the organization as a whole.
Self-evaluation alone does not a good leader make. Leaders need people, good people, people upon whom they can rely for advice and various levels of support. The best authentic-leaders create an inner circle comprising of individuals with skills that fill gaps in their leadership styles and challenge them to strive for a better sense of purpose.
Personal Values and Ethics
Possessing a genuine sense of personal values and principles will help the authentic leader better guide both the process of self-evaluation, but also interaction with other individuals within the organization. They provide the moral compass with which to follow when no one else is looking and the framework through which all decisions are made.
Authentic leadership is NOT a filterless representation of what you really think. That’s called stupidity. On the contrary, this style of leadership requires character, hard work, reflection, and a lot of self-control. Employed correctly, authentic leadership provides a moral basis for adapting one’s leadership style to any challenge, and a rich environment in which other aspiring leaders can grow.
“If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”
--Coach Paul William "Bear" Bryant
Thought-provoking words! This is not about football; it is about leadership!
Coach Bryant’s memorable words transcend all football stadiums. We can recognize much emotional intelligence in his wisdom. Real leadership cannot be possible without the attribute of emotional intelligence, which enables us to empathize with others, be aware of our own emotions and reactions, and build relationships.
Let’s face it, leaders depend on those they lead: their people. Leaders can have the sharpest intellect, the brightest ideas, and even the strongest voice. Yet, all of this is useless if they don’t connect with their team. People will be interested in what is in the leader’s heart first, then what is in his/her mind. Big C for competence is relevant; nonetheless, Big C for Caring is indispensable! Then and only then, people will begin to trust and follow him/her.
The point is, sometimes we are too busy with the “instruments” or the “tools” and forget about the operators. Strategies, visions, and bright shining ideas, which can only be closely examined while wearing sun glasses, are useless without the operators (the people on the team).
But wait a second. Modern organizations should know everything about leadership. After all, we have a five millennia-worth of leadership experience -- books, audio cassettes, courses, and highly-paid speakers. Yet, the irony is that many organizations often neglect the most basic ingredients to lead and win. Real leadership includes a sacred responsibility to the welfare of the team. So the optimum strategy to attain top results has been, is, and will be the optimum strategy to lead and guide the team. Makes sense?
Just like Coach Bryant, leaders put others before themselves. They are also sincerely humble. Yes, you read correctly! Genuine leadership requires an element of humility. A richness of arrogance, egocentrism, and vanity blinds leaders. Real leaders do not fear being outshined by employees with superb abilities. Instead they wisely maximize their people’s abilities and develop their potential. Leaders also recognize their own shortcomings, and are open and candid about them which also contribute to build trust and strong teams. When leaders admit that they are not supermen or superwomen, their people respect them far more.
The ideal environment at work is a supportive environment that builds trusting relationships. Build relationships first; then, you will effectively lead them. Trust is the glue that brings the people together. Build trust to build teamwork! Downplay or ignore trust…kiss teamwork goodbye!
Conversely, without exercising emotional intelligence and caring for employees, a leader may not be genuine but, a “toxic boss.” Some of the traits of toxic bosses include: lack of respect for employees, not taking the blame and not sharing the credit, poor listening, narcissism, taking full credit while ignoring his employees’ efforts, craving for power, and more.
Unlike toxic bosses, leaders who exercise emotional intelligence generate a positive climate and, hence, are more likely to get better results. Leaders take ownership of their organization. As a result, when something goes wrong in the organization they lead, they do not hesitate to say, “My bad…”
Finally, let’s compare Coach Bryant’s memorable words to what a toxic boss would say. How would that sound? Perhaps it would go like this:
If anything goes bad, they did it. If anything goes semi-good, you did the bad segment and I did the good one. If anything goes really good, I and only I did it. (That’s all it takes to throw people under the bus, to win an argument, and shine while eclipsing others).
Strategy is as a pattern of decisions and plans, which are directed at interacting with the external and internal environment and effectively and efficiently allocating capabilities to achieve organizational objectives and increase profitability. So, organizational strategies are formed to efficiently deploy capabilities and interact with environments-- both internal and external. Many companies have plans going well into the future. Long term goals spanning five to fifteen years. While short-term goals are more tactical and are just as important. Competitive advantage is sought by many companies, for instance, Grant, concentrates on knowledge creation and application, and argues that firms are entities that must create and apply knowledge in order to enhance competitive advantage. An example of this is when Jamie Diamond left Citigroup to head up J.P. Morgan in the 2013, he was paid 20 million dollars to not take any people with him to J. P. Morgan for three years. Thus, knowledge creation and application manifest themselves in people, organizations, systems, and processes and should be guarded like gold in the Federal Reserve Bank.
Consultants can see organizational strategy as a sum of objectives, plans, and procedures designed to efficiently and effectively upgrade organizational capabilities and interact with their environment more effectively. In particular, strategy defines a pattern to deploy organizational capabilities and interact with both the internal and the external environment. Consultants can help CEOs manage their knowledge assets to create new ideas and knowledge aimed at achieving organizational objectives. First and foremost, just as one organization is holding knowledge back from competitors they are following suit. Knowledge could be the most important component of success in this ever changing technological environment of today. Thus, organizational strategy is an internal resource affecting knowledge and in most cases, knowledge is the most strategic factor of competitive advantage.
Consultants can help CEOs find the best analysis strategy using a problematic search of various options. Analysis strategy stimulates organizations to apply information systems in their decision-making processes to investigate various alternatives and options. This strategy can promote the knowledge utilization by providing a series of clear guidelines for companies to track future trends in the business environment, and accordingly conduct “what-if” analysis and allocate organizational resources. Herein, consultants can analyze strategic milestones to meet the goals of the employee intellectual stimulation and personal development. Analysis strategy is highly related to firms’ capacity to generate new ideas and knowledge, and can potentially provide new and more innovative solutions for organizational problems as they arise.
In addition, consultants can help CEOs develop an effective strategy to implement a series of basic research aimed at developing a more comprehensive vision for the future by incorporating upcoming trends in the business environment. CEOs can expand the growth opportunities available to organizations that may be challenging but important to close the gap between success and failure. Consultants can provide consulting services to develop relationships and interactions in order to provide valuable resources for the company as a whole. Furthermore, consultants can help CEOs take an effective offensive approach at times and in this case they should employ a defensive strategy. Some CEOs feel that a defensive strategy, while necessary, sets a negative connotation on their span of control. However, a defensive strategy utilizes modifications in order to efficiently use available resources, decrease costs, and control operational risk. CEOs must also take a proactive approach to search for better positions in the business environment. In this case, consultants can help CEOs build communities of practice within companies, thereby inspiring employees to find better opportunities and solutions to problems. Furthermore, consultants can help CEOs set highly desired expectations and provide a suitable situation for employees to identify new opportunities. The tendency to search for workplace issues and their root causes can potentially generate better alternatives to solve them.
Consultants can also help CEOs reshape organizational structure to be more effective when the command center of organizations can disseminate information in a decentralized and organic way as opposed to the mechanical and centralized command center. Decentralized structures shift the power of decision-making to the lower levels and subsequently inspire employees to create new ideas and even implement them while centralized structures may negatively impact interdepartmental communications and inhibit knowledge exchange. Recent research in this area affirms that the there is a negative impact of centralization on various knowledge management processes such as knowledge acquiring, creating, and sharing among both managers and departmental units. Ergo, consultants play a critical role in building more effective structures within organizations.
In addition, consultants can provide consulting services to drive an effective culture to inspire employees to create new ideas and acquire knowledge from various sources such as customers. This step can be essential to identify the needs of customers and also recognize the emerging changes in the business environment. Consultants can, therefore, create the most appropriate workplaces to facilitate innovation and to motivate employees to solve their current problems in a more innovative manner. CEOs steering the organizational culture facilitate innovation, by undertaking initiatives that improve knowledge transfer, thus enhancing the performance of employees and the implementation of effective changes to maintain the quality of products and services. This can also exploit organizational performance, though improving the quality of products and services, and the organizational revenue. Furthermore, consultants can help CEOs develop a learning culture in which people continuously grow and develop both personally and professionally. This is similar to a value-chain approach. Consultants also need to first support this approach because they play a strategic role in building effective learning organizations through applying incentives as mechanisms to develop a more innovative climate and managing effective tools to acquire knowledge from external sources.
Mostafa Sayyadi, CAHRI, AFAIM, CPMgr, works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies, and helps companies—from start-ups to the Fortune 100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders. He is a business book author and a long-time contributor to HR.com and Consulting Magazine and his work has been featured in these top-flight business publications.
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