Authentic leadership is primarily understood as being true to oneself and others as a leader. It means portraying your true characteristics both at work and outside work rather than acting in a way that deceives your followers.
According to an article published by Forbes magazine in 2013 titled “What is Authentic Leadership?” by Kevin Kruse, authentic leaders are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and emotions and they do not strive to conceal their limitations. They are morally upright and considerate of their employees and society. Their leadership skills correlate with the context and therefore they behave accordingly by balancing their emotional intelligence (EQ) with their Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
Authentic leadership was also discussed in Bill George’s 2003 book, ‘Authentic Leadership’, who claims it is beneficial to individuals in several ways. George terms authentic leadership as long term oriented. Authentic leaders are likely to achieve long term goals of long standing values which in turn have a positive impact on organisations. This contrasts sharply with inauthentic leaders who focus mainly on financial goals. Being untrue to yourself and others may work in the short term as you manage to push employees to deliver short lived results. However, once your subordinates see through the pretence, they develop trust issues and learn to take advantage of your weaknesses.
Being authentic therefore helps you to protect yourself and the company. Research has proven that authentic leaders are more effective in comparison to leaders who subscribe to other theories such as “great man theory” or “Leadership is acting”. The most successful companies in the world such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google among others are led by leaders whose values are asserted both at work and in the outside world. Jack Ma, for instance, the founder of the enigmatic Alibaba online store, is widely known for the values he portrays as a leader and mentor. His business empire is built on these values rather than financial goals. He has been quoted as encouraging people to make ‘healthy money’ that is good for themselves and for society. Such statements and his values are an indicator of authentic leadership, which leads to long lasting success and prowess.
Conclusively, authenticity is no longer a choice, it is essential in a leader’s life. In the past, leaders would apply inauthentic leadership in a bid to portray an image of greatness and at times, heroism. The demographics have however shifted in the 21st century. Followers are wiser and more intelligent. They can see through pretence. Moreover, globalisation and the internet have made it almost impossible for inauthentic leaders to survive, especially unnoticed. Your authenticity as a leader will be seen and appreciated by the entire world, through these two lenses and similarly, lack of authenticity will be scrutinised thus making it difficult to thrive. Regardless of your personal gaps, being authentic serves a greater purpose for you as a leader. It all narrows down to taking full advantage of your strengths while instilling trust in your followers thus ensuring they fill the gaps making you a collective, and more powerful whole.
Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at email@example.com.