Developing your authentic leadership

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.

mirrorOne 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:

  1. Understand your life story and how it influences your leadership
  2. Continually strive for self-awareness
  3. Practice your values and principles routinely so they can stand up under pressure
  4. Understand your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
  5. Build a support team
  6. Integrate the various aspects of your life (home, work, community, etc.)
  7. 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.


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