There’s an expectation that organisational leaders today must be adept at dealing with constant high pressure whilst having a strong capability to make sharp decisions. Their success in delivering to these expectations has potential implications for the future success of their business. It’s clear that more traditional styles of leadership, which dominated businesses of 15 years ago, with their hierarchical ‘command and control’ focus, generally prove ineffective in modern-day organisations. Considering the increasing pressure for larger businesses to maintain a competitive advantage, many are looking to identify more sustainable leadership practices. As a result, many businesses identify coaching as a beneficial intervention to support this.
Steve Jobs, although well known for his tyrannical style and blunt criticism, showed leadership which was no less than truly real and genuine. He once said:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
This nicely demonstrates that Jobs’s clear motivation was driven by his own ambitions and aspirations. His focus had little concern for personal power, ego or money. He was his true, authentic self and this showed through consistently.
Being real and authentic in leadership sounds relatively straightforward and many leaders may convince themselves that this is the style which already defines them. However, to re-examine the truth around our authenticity requires an open mind and a fresh perspective.
Here are five questions to get you thinking about just how authentic you are in your leadership role.
1. How solid are your values?
Authentic leadership is about being completely self-aware, knowing your values and beliefs and not being afraid to make them know to others. It’s about being your ‘real self’, whether you’re at home or in the work place. If you find yourself putting on an ‘act’ at work then perhaps it time to question your authenticity. Don’t be surprised if people simply don’t trust you if you’re merely just playing the part.
Being an authentic leader means that you understand and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses and have full awareness of the things that cause you most concern. Like Steve Jobs, it requires a willingness to be truly open in sharing some of these vulnerabilities.
Being self-aware and showing your true self is a continuous journey and needs constant effort but the bonus about being genuine is that you’ll never be afraid to make mistakes. People will respect your honesty if things don’t go quite to plan and will pull together in response.
2. How well can you describe your purpose and vision?
Steve Jobs was very much about inspiring himself and others to focus on the clear mission of his company. He constantly worked to bring the people in his organisation along with him to capture that vision of the future together. He said,
“If you are working on something exciting, that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed, the vision pulls you”
And Apple’s results speak for themselves.
Authentic leaders are able to clearly articulate their organisation’s long-term mission and objectives and to do this by conveying a simple and inspiring message. Everything they do and say is in the pursuit of results and achieving inspiring company goals which are driven by values and beliefs, not personal power or status.
3. How much of yourself do you share?
Leaders must be strong but that doesn’t need to translate into being ‘hard’ and bereft of any emotion. Steve Jobs was a tough and direct leader but he believed that mistakes were inevitable, particularly when working in a fast moving and innovative environment. He was never afraid to hold his hands up when mistakes were made. His reflections on this were pragmatic:
“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations”
An openness to being vulnerable shows courage but allows authentic leaders to build stronger and more trusting relationships with their people. Then the organisation thrives!
An authentic leader is one that doesn’t feel a need to impress with their knowledge and wisdom – they are comfortable to admit that they don’t have all the answers. The difference with leadership authenticity is a keenness to engage with others. Taking on board ideas, feedback and alternative opinions to inform good leadership in the best interests of the organisation, singles out the ‘real’ from the ‘fake’.
4. How well do you know people?
Leaders might profess to ‘know’ their employees but how genuine is this interest? If the level of attentiveness to your people is superficial then it’s likely that their commitment to the organisation’s mission will follow the same course. They will quickly sense the low value their leaders place on them.
Connecting to the organisation rather than pursuing a detached leadership style will build trust and dedication. Being open and readily accessible to your people, builds a culture of trust and dedication compared to more conventional leaders who tend to appear aloof from the work force.
Job’s certainly engaged with his people:
“When a good idea comes, part of my job is to move it around, just see what different people think, get people talking about it, argue with people about it, get ideas moving among that group of 100 people, get different people together to explore different aspects of it quietly, and—just explore things.”
The best leaders immerse themselves within the company. They listen, interact, give their time to the people who do the work. They “walk the talk” authentically and consistently. And when a job needs doing they’re not afraid to get stuck in and get things done.
5. How consistent are you?
With all of these questions its apparent that leaders might display authentic traits and characteristics some of the time but is this authenticity reliable? Above all else, truly authentic leaders must be 100% consistent in their thinking, communication and actions. Only then will the organisation trust that this is the real you.
In today’s competitive workplaces, a leader’s self-discipline to remain consistently authentic in their approach can be challenging. Steve Jobs had the support of Bill Campbell, a renowned and respected coach, who enabled him to engage in valuable reflection and continuous learning around his leadership style. It follows that authentic leadership CAN be learnt and practiced but must be a continuous journey of learning and reflection.
Whatever your role as leader, authenticity is about being the REAL you so that you can deliver a genuine and inspiring message to an organisation that knows and trusts you.