RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Are You An Authentic Leader?

with 12 comments

AuthenticityOften in the corporate world’s setting around us, we hear the magic word, ‘trust’. There isn’t any dearth of literature on this subject, especially when it comes to importance of ‘trust’ in relationships at work; more so, in the manager-subordinate relationship.Trust me, please’ is writ large over every leader’s forehead; you must have observed nearly every leader wanting to secure his team’s trust; so much so, that we HR folks often end up conducting developmental workshops, engagement surveys and what not more around this area of organizational effectiveness.

I agree that trust can be easily termed as one of the most important pillars of organizational effectiveness. However, to my mind, there is an even more crucial aspect to work-relationships – authenticity. Being trustworthy and being authentic are often confused as the same attribute. It isn’t so, in my opinion; they are two distinct behavioural attributes that impact anyone’s leadership quotient.

While everyone loves the idea of a ‘trustworthy’ leader – both leaders and followers share equal appeal for it, very few appreciate the need of genuine leadership traits – ones that begin foremost from every leader knowing and acting ‘true self’, reflecting one’s true personality and thought process in everyday actions. What organizations need and what followers look for are authentic leaders who are themselves aware of who they are, what is their vision for the organization and how to make followers relate to them so as to help them transform their vision a reality.

Over last couple of years, I have extensively researched about what is authenticity and how this attribute plays a pivotal role amongst other leadership traits. In my last year’s blog of the ‘Leadership’ series, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led By You’, one of the 12 questions that I asked the leadership aspirants was – Am I an authentic person and appear one too?’ Having spent some good time exploring this closely, putting the learning to test and subsequently experiencing the results it brings, I have come to a conclusion that this is the most primary trait of leadership.

Laying down the ‘necessary’ nine skills required for the practice of great leadership’ in his outstandingly simple and practical work, ‘Unusually Excellent’, John Hamm speaks at length about the credibility and character as a primary leadership imperative. He further splits credibility into following three dimensions – a leader being compelling, authentic and trustworthy.

Defining ‘authenticity’, he says,

“Being authentic – knowing who you really are, and holding true to yourself in the most difficult moments – is ‘ground zero’ of leadership credibility… Knowing who we are at the core is the project of awareness, courageous introspection, and thoughtful reflection.”

Hamm makes a strong case for this inquiry and poses a strong question to leadership aspirants:

“What informs and creates our capability to lead with real influence?”

A leader needs to not only know his own self, but also listen to self. His experiences, value-system, how he sees the world, how he sees other people, his feelings & habits, aspirations, all count big when it comes to leading others. They all form an integral whole when it comes to shaping the character of a leader, and we all know, character of a leader makes or breaks the followers’ faith and inspiration in him.

John stresses on the need of followers to identify with the ‘True Self’ of their leader,

“Trust the power of allowing others to know you. Even through it can seem scary… The real you – no limitations or role-playing – is what people want to know, and the real you is the person to whom they will commit.”

So true this sounds, specially when we see a lot of ‘leaders’ trying too hard to earn the trust of their teams, without actually giving any opportunity whatsoever to let people know what really drives & motivates them, what are their passions, and even sharing their failures – areas where they failed and that it is indeed OK to fail. In short, I have seen most leaders trying to appear ‘perfect’! Now, if that is the case and if that’s the perception they wish to build, how would they ever receive any feedback from their followers?

Feedback comes when people relate to you, not when they see you seeing yourself, portraying yourself as perfect. Specially your followers, who wouldn’t just risk it. Think of it; if your followers wouldn’t know how ‘authentically’ you take your failures, would they ever share theirs’ with you or tell you your own grey areas? Chances are rare, I would say.

John shares this thought on importance of seeking feedback,

“Unusually Excellent leaders find the courage within to be authentic- and that takes knowing themselves, accepting the disappointment of their past, and actively seeking feedback form their teams.

Try to use it (feedback) diagnostically, to improve, not as a threat to your self-image, self-esteem or self-worth.”

If your own image is a portrayal of ‘perfectness personified’, and your followers see you trying to keep it that way, I am convinced feedback isn’t going to come your way. And deep down our hearts, we know that can be ‘Hara-kiri’ of sorts in the pursuit of leadership.

It is this willingness and pledge to authenticity that is the bedrock of becoming trustworthy. Authenticity is a primary skill, even before a leader moves on to establish his trustworthiness. Once we are accepted as ‘genuinely authentic’, then only our followers shall accept our equity as a leader.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, the celebrated authors speak about leaders need to essentially act as ‘authentic chameleons’, in their very well researched book, ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?’. They argue for leaders to,

“…consistently displaying their true selves through out the changes of contexts that require them to play the variety of roles.”

In my view, by saying so the authors dispel the fear that leaders need to be a different ‘person’ in different situations; they rather display their true self in all situations and only ‘act’ differently as per the merits of the situation. That would go far in securing trust and gaining confidence of their followers that to keep them guessing.

Rob and Gareth state further,

“The demand for authentic leadership is there and growing. As traditional hierarchies disintegrate, only leadership can fill the void…CEOs tell us that their most pressing need is for more leaders in their organizations – not the consummate role players who seem to surround them… Authentic leadership has become the most prized organization and individual asset.”

“Can people trust you?” asks Linda Hill, the Wallace Bret Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She chairs the HBS Leadership Initiative; and poses this question in her widely acclaimed book, ‘Being The Boss’. When I read this gem of a book few years ago, this one question stayed with me and it has been instrumental in shaping my thought process on ‘why would people trust me in first place if they don’t know me? To my mind, this ‘Why’ is primary and fundamental over the ‘Can’ part.

To this point, Linda emphatically says,

“The quality of work they (followers) do, the care and commitment they devote, their willingness to expend extra effort, all depend in significant part on the kind of person you are.

To be trusted, you must reveal yourself in order to demonstrate your competence and character. To create trust requires that you take pain to be explicit what you value as a manager, how you work, what you want from others, and not least, who you are.”

Needless to say, I am more than convinced that people won’t trust you completely if they don’t know the real you. And that certainly needs you to put in special focus on ‘who you really are and do your people know the real you.’

And it is here where John cautions us in a rather straightforward manner,

Be careful about ‘trying’ too hard to be authentic. Being yourself should feel easier that being the image you think others want of you. Don’t be authentic in the way someone else is – do it your way.”

 

My message – don’t be a copycat leader; be you. It works better.

________________________________________

Photo-credit: createpresence.com

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12 Responses

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  1. Very True Rishi ji,,Authenticity through one’s action in daily life is the only way one creates trust in others to be followed.. The Creator of Trust is one’s own ‘Authentic Karma’

    Tanvinder Singh Bindra

    February 3, 2013 at 5:14 PM

  2. Well said Rishi!

    Manoj kumar

    February 4, 2013 at 7:57 AM

  3. Brilliant stuff – something that Most of the leaders must practice

    smeer

    February 5, 2013 at 10:59 PM

    • Thanks, Smeer. In my view, ALL leaders must practice it, authentically…

      RRGwrites

      February 5, 2013 at 11:08 PM

  4. Brilliantly put across Sir!!!…………..
    A good and useful read, not just for Leaders, but for everyone in general.
    Time to be Authentic. Just being Trustworthy won’t do……………. 🙂

    Sunil Rawat

    February 6, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    • Well said, Sunil. Authenticity and trustworthiness go hand in hand, and are both the biggest forces when it comes to leadership influence.

      RRGwrites

      February 6, 2013 at 12:07 AM

  5. Sir, this article helped me to understand that being authentic is the key to earn trust. Being authentic also helps in becoming good leader.

    From this article I have one question. Being authentic is knowing self. But for behaving do we need to identify and understand our audience or is it right to be self?

    Amit Kumar Tiwari

    February 8, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    • Amit, good question. One needs to know self and be self, that’s authenticity. And that is the key to act differently in different situations. Only when one is self aware, he can act according to the merits of the situation – authentic chameleons, as I quoted Rob and Gareth – leaders need to focus on “…consistently displaying their true selves through out the changes of contexts that require them to play the variety of roles.”

      RRGwrites

      February 8, 2013 at 10:34 PM

  6. […] Post-script: You would have observed the extra stress I have laid on the word ‘Authentic’. Well, that is the real key in leadership & communication. You may read about it in detail here (‘Are You An Authentic Leader’). […]

  7. Reblogged this on RRGwrites and commented:

    Ever thought that in leadership, ‘trust’ and ‘authenticity’ are two different words? Yes/No? Read on…

    RRGwrites

    August 24, 2014 at 11:02 PM


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