Leadership has always been more difficult in challenging times, but now more than ever, the challenges facing today’s organizations necessitate finding and developing premier leadership talent. Effective leaders have evolved into those who can best oversee change in our organizations. Something about these particular leaders enables them to transform organizations and move people to much higher levels of satisfaction, commitment and performance. How do they do it?
Authentic leadership is an emerging leadership style that focuses on:
Leaders are leading with principles rooted in deep, personal meaning; in ways that help enact transformational change. And today’s new prototype for organizational leadership continues to unfold right before us in our everyday workplaces.
Authentic Leadership Exercises:
The times have been disruptive for everyone – and have caused each of us to reconsider how we lead, how we want to show up and to prioritize what really matters. Leadership has always been more difficult in challenging times, but the challenges facing today’s organizations act as a call for action and a focus on finding and developing premier leadership talent at the same time as seismic shifts are occurring – it’s like building the bridge as you are crossing it.
It’s clear that we must get beyond a programmatic view of effective leadership to recognize and facilitate a new breed of leaders that is at ease with spearheading change in our organizations. A new paradigm for leadership is emerging right under our feet - something about these particular leaders enables them to act on the fly with composure and curiosity, to inspire people to higher levels of satisfaction, commitment and ultimately performance. We are in transformational times, and one that these leaders seem able to navigate the paradox of diversity and inclusion to become the most effective leaders in their companies. How?
How do we define authentic leaders? For one thing, transformational leaders in the classic sense are authentic leaders; they are deeply aware of how they think and behave; others see them as being aware of their own and the others values and moral perspectives, knowledge and strengths – they are and look for “originals, not copies”. For those of us concerned with fundamental aspects of diversity, this translates to understanding, having respect for and enabling each of us “come out” – to present our uniqueness to the world as an asset. Authentic leaders are confident, hopeful and resilient. They lead from their own convictions, values and personal point of view and they have high ethical standards for themselves, for others and for their organizations. So while authentic leaders value and preserve diversity, they enable a community of people that share a mindset of high minded intention and action.
Company policies – Are there company policies that are particularly important to your business? Perhaps your unlimited paternity/maternity leave policy has endeared you to employees across the company. This is a good place to talk about that.
Executive profiles – A company is only as strong as its executive leadership. This is a good place to show off who’s occupying the corner offices. Write a nice bio about each executive that includes what they do, how long they’ve been at it, and what got them to where they are.
However, a couple of questions come to mind: Is this type of leadership about what leaders do or who they are? Also, how do these leaders come to know who they are? I have recently completed a 4-year research study that speaks to these concerns and, I hope, answers these questions. Here are several key findings from my study:
We all have personal frameworks derived from our experiences and our history. We’ve all faced that critical — and disorienting — moment when we suddenly realize our network of beliefs is may be irrelevant. Those illustrative moments provide the opportunity for deeply personal leaning experiences. My research indicates that how we develop as leaders is directly related to the way we learn from these kinds of experiences. It’s how we work through these life-changing points in time that shapes how we emerge as leaders, with a new, more self-aware — and very personal — way of looking at the world. And it provided the opportunity to lead with compassion in ways no other “learning” could.
The lessons we learn in our youth, in those first jobs, and early in our careers all converge to form the “architecture” on which our future leadership is built. The lessons we draw from those early experiences act as fuel for our development as leaders and give a personal meaning to how we enact that leadership. More than half the leaders in my study described a challenge in their early careers that was either a resolved or unresolved pillar of their current leadership.
Authentic leadership is a leadership approach now a part of our leadership lexicon. Mutations in in those we trust and those who lead have caused people like you and I to mistrust their intentions. As a result, authentic leadership is a differentiator that focuses on restoring confidence, hope and optimism, developing resilience in people and in organizations.
How do we relate to a broader constituency without it feeling like the “approach of the moment”? Renewing their connection and their uniqueness in the context of respect, support and transparency – combined with a dose of acceptance and characterized with discomfort is a bold move. But it is a necessary one. On the past one side of that formula seemed to be the leading premise: connection. What we now know is that many of us have no idea of the context, stories and critical moments in one another’s lives that have made them who they are.
Surprisingly, 80% of the leaders in my study had a theory of leadership that was uniquely theirs. The frameworks were distinct, ranging from “The Big Voila,” to “The School of Fish,” to “The Three Knots.” No matter the catchy phrase or name, the frameworks had two things in common — they all were a way for leaders to say who they were, what they cared about, and how they lead. And all were derived from a creative compilation of the leaders’ lifetime of experiences.
key finding in the study is that authentic leadership is a fundamental characteristic for transformational leaders. Being an authentic leader means being credible, open, inclusive, broad minded, trusted, and trusting. It also means “walking the talk” — being able to articulate who you are and then acting on it. Transformational leaders are not obtuse: they make complex things clear, so that employees can easily understand and act on these visions and directions. Their effective communication creates a mutual exchange of information, influence, respect, and trust. They continually build trust among employees — both on a personal level and through organizational actions.
The paradox we discussed earlier comes into play here. According to my study, good leaders understand the importance of leveraging the diversity people bring to their organizations, and they also recognize the need to respect and celebrate the individual. As one leader said, “It isn’t salad, with its individual parts. It’s more like soup.” In truth it is both soup and salad; leaders are often good at the salad part but knowing how to make great soup means building communities that nourish the positive spirit in a diverse set of employees and still maintain a shared focus.
Transformational leaders are comfortable with who they are and how they lead. In my study, a remarkable number of leaders differentiate themselves by articulating their leadership frameworks. At some point in their growth, their personal and leadership frameworks merged, giving them a deeper level of leadership. And it is this deeper level of leadership that makes them authentic leaders.
It’s a new day for leadership, with leaders who lead with principles that are rooted in deep and personal meaning, and in ways that reflect acting on their beliefs and understanding what to do to enact transformational change. This is the new paradigm for organizational leadership —one that is emerging right before us in our organizations.