Saturday, 10 April 2010

Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, by Bill George is a great book on leadership. George's own experiences as a Chairman and CEO are used as he delves into his views and thoughts about leadership.
What makes this book really enjoyable is that it isn’t a prescriptive book that tells you HOW to be. Rather, George sets the groundwork for individuals to examine their own lives, challenging them to accept the challenge to embrace their own authenticity. George states: “Authentic leaders genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money, or prestige for themselves. They are guided by qualities of the heart, by passion and compassion, as they are by qualities of the mind.” (George, 1989, p. 12)
In Authentic Leadership, George identifies five dimensions of leadership: purpose, values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. Leaders, George asserts in the first dimension, must “understand their purpose.” (George, 1989, p. 19) The understanding of one’s own purpose is the foundation of authentic leadership and, I would suggest, authenticity. Purpose is the understanding of self and what intrinsically motivates. It is this knowledge that not only creates purpose, but passion for that purpose. For a consultant or a leader it is that passion which inspires and motivates others to follow, to listen, and to be influenced.
The second dimension which George identifies is values. Authentic leaders, George asserts, are those who are “true to your [their] values.” (George, 1989, p. 37) Those who are authentic not only know what their values are, they also live them. Those who are authentic have had their values tested through their various experiences and their values and behaviours have been congruent within those challenges. George also states that when people are authentic and they live their values they are demonstrating “integrity in action.”
Developing compassion is the third dimension of authenticity in George’s book. George stresses the need to “develop our hearts…Through the connections formed through personal sharing, people are inspired to believe in their leaders and follow them.” (George, 1989, pp. 39 – 40) These statements bring us back to Block’s own words at our class: “Authenticity is putting into words what we are feeling in the moment.”
The fourth dimension of authenticity described by George is to have connected relationships. Simply put, George states that “Leaders who are open with people, even when sharing bad news or offering critical feedback, establish that sense of connection that builds commitment.” (George, 1989, pp. 40-41) That connection, asserts George is the authentic quality of the relationship. It is authenticity in action.
The final dimension of authenticity, for George, is practicing self-discipline. As George states, “To be authentic, leaders must behave with consistency and self-discipline, not letting stress get in the way of their judgment.” (George, 1989, p. 41) Consistent self-discipline is also about the living of your values, principles, purpose, etc. Simply put, it is ‘walking your talk.’ While easy to state, it is probably the most difficult aspect of authenticity, and the most necessary.
George also clarifies that self-discipline is about all of our behaviours. He asserts that self-discipline includes the need for balance and the ability to de-stress. These are also critical to the authentic leader, as they also create healthy leadership. I believe this added dimension really speaks to authenticity. It requires you to be honest with yourself, not just others. It asks you to set boundaries and to really understand your own personal needs.
While these dimensions absolutely point to authenticity, in the end it is really about how a person lives them. Authenticity asks if these aspects are evident in the person. I think the presence of these traits is the true measure of authenticity. The mark of the authentic person, then, is in how they show up in the world. Living these qualities with true strength of character, vulnerability and integrity, is what makes a person authentic.

George, Bill. Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating lasting Value. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

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