How to Develop Authentic Leadership
How to Develop Authentic Leadership
One of the key behavioural aspirations for todays’ business leaders is to be viewed as authentic, self-aware and emotionally intelligent, but not false or ‘over-coached’, someone who is ethical with a strong moral compass. In an increasingly VUCA world, where there are regular reports of business leaders as well as political leaders committing personal and corporate indiscretions, there is an appetite to see more integrity, honesty and compassion. Since the onset of Covid-19 some unlikely popular leaders have surfaced, none less than New Zealand’s President, Jacinda Ardern. Conversely, some corporate leaders have fallen from grace due to their poor handling of their workforce and their use of the government's furlough scheme.
So, how do you develop Authentic Leadership?
If leaders are veterans of the Boardroom and have become very organizationally aware, i.e. in tune with the corporate politics, or are highly ambitious, it is easier to ‘play the game’ and have a polished external persona. However, it is also possible to have executive presence, and to balance strong leadership skills, such as assertiveness, leadership judgement, strategy execution and alignment, whilst demonstrating empathy and inter-cultural sensitivity. As Henry Cloud wrote in his book ‘Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality’: ‘Just as we leave the effects of our work behind in results, we leave the effects of our interactions with people in their hearts, minds, and souls.’
Years ago, being an authentic leader often seemed to be a simple question of being able to look yourself in the mirror without feeling shame and guilt regarding any misdemeanours in or outside work, which could lose you the top job. Nowadays, being an authentic leader is not only about being honest with yourself and the Board regarding the finances and any out of office deviations, but also about truly ‘walking the talk’ at all times, especially in front of the whole workforce. Leaders will often cite the company’s vision, mission and values, but may not live these themselves or follow best practice whilst making key decisions. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation still holds true today regarding actions speaking louder than words: ‘The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.’
Being inconsistent in communication and actions, reneging on promises, breaking confidentiality are all sure-fire ways of disengaging the senior team as well as employees. The number of actively non-engaged workers is reported to be rising considerably, especially among the Millennials, who now constitute around 50% of employed individuals. Add this to the lively war for talent and the negative impact of COvid-19 and Brexit on the UK, and leaders cannot afford to appear insincere or disingenuous in front of their teams, let alone their increasingly savvy, well-informed and social-media literate customers. As with any relationship, once trust and respect are lost, it takes years to be regained, if at all.
Ways for leaders to develop Authentic Leadership include:
- Living the values
- Showing genuine care for their people
- Using a Coaching, not telling or autocratic, approach
- Building trust through being consistent and following up on promises
- Developing positive working relationships
- Actively Listening
- Asking Open Questions
- Communicating, Leading and Managing Change
- Making transparent decisions
- Consulting with the leadership team
- Asking for Feedback and acting on it
- Expecting high standards of themselves and their teams
- Managing Conflict
- Dealing swiftly with poor performance
- Demonstrating Resilience
- Managing Talent and Building Succession
- Creating a trust-based culture, where it’s OK to make mistakes
Above all and simply put, telling the truth and treating others the way you would like to be treated reaps the rewards of having high performing engaged teams, as well as the ensuing financial rewards.
A Face to Face or Online 360 Feedback Review can be one of the most robust methods of determining the areas leaders need to improve, followed by Executive Coaching to embed key leadership competencies and behaviours. ROI of such programmes can be as high as 7,000% with the resultant increase in retention, engagement, productivity and profit.
‘The investment in the feedback process and executive coaching programme has been returned many times over with the SLT being much more self-aware and focused. As a result, their teams are more motivated and aligned, which means Sales and retention have also increased.’ CEO
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