In a court ruling on obscenity, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said “I know it when I see it.” Some things are hard to define, but clear in practice. Authentic leadership can be like that.
One of the best definitions I know is from Bill George’s Authentic Leadership. I had a chance to hear him speak soon after publishing this book, and one comment particularly stuck with me. He cited examples of leaders who were in the news for a variety of dishonest activities, and said he didn’t believe that such people woke up one morning and decided “today I’m going to be unethical.” Rather, he said it’s a gradual process of moving away from one’s core values and beliefs – of forgetting to be an authentic leader.
So what does authentic leadership look like? Here are some of the qualities Bill George proposed:
- They develop their natural leadership abilities, and also work to overcome their shortcomings
- They know where they stand and lead with purpose, meaning, and values
- They build enduring relationships and lead with their hearts as well as their heads
- They are consistent and self-disciplined
- They don’t compromise their core principles
On Wednesday Todd quoted from this HBR blog post. One of the things I like about this article is that it provides suggestions for developing this kind of authentic leadership. Here are some themes from the authors’ research:
- Understand your life story and how it influences your leadership
- Continually strive for self-awareness
- Practice your values and principles routinely so they can stand up under pressure
- Understand your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
- Build a support team
- Integrate the various aspects of your life (home, work, community, etc.)
- Develop authentic leadership in others
This list can seem daunting, but it’s not a checklist that can be completed and marked off. It’s an ongoing approach to leadership and personal growth. As Bill George said, “becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.*”
What activities do you practice to promote your authentic leadership?
Dee Anne Bonebright
* Authentic Leadership, page 12.