Authentic Leadership

​Now, more than ever, our companies, non-profit organizations, government, faith communities, schools and most of all, our families, are in dire need of authentic leaders. Historical figures that come to my mind are: Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. Men and women that inspired multitudes of people by courageously and wholeheartedly putting the needs of others before his/her own – knowing that we are all part of a much larger community: humankind.

So what is “authenticity”?

It’s about being real – our insides match our external reality (no masks), being vulnerable, being fully human, living one’s life on purpose and in alignment with our passions and values, being compassionate and relating to others from our heart and soul. Simply put, it’s about being an original, not a copy of someone else – living each day as the person, the gift we were born into this world to share in service of others.

What about “leadership”?

At its most basic level, leadership is about getting intended results by engaging other people. It’s about doing the right things vs. the easy or expected, making the tough decisions in the face of adversity (courage), setting a vision and strategy, risk taking while playing a bigger game, developing the talents, skills and passions of the team, inspiring others to realize their potential, and to uphold the standard of excellence even while mediocrity and comfort zones threaten to tear it down.

Characteristics of Authentically Led Organizations

When a leader is authentic, powerful behaviors are put into action which creates extraordinary results – a triple “win” for individuals, the organization, and the larger market or community being served. Here is a sampling of what shows up in the presence of an authentic leader:

• A culture where team members are honored, valued and respected as unique individuals. Where the values, talents and passions of each person are sought out, appreciated and linked to the organization’s mission.
• Quality conversations occur frequently by using powerful questions and by listening “generously” to diverse opinions.
• Sharing of life stories that reveal our true selves, impart learning, and more deeply connect us with our colleagues.
• Non-judgmental accountability that is focused on results and behaviors and not the person. Discussions are objective as possible so that open, authentic dialogue can lead to moving powerfully forward with renewed commitment. People know where they stand, honestly, compassionately, and with good intention.
• The leader lets go of control when appropriate and empowers his/her team to do what is needed – accepting mistakes/missteps along the way with grace and understanding (“failing forward” as John Maxwell writes).
• Giving credit where credit is due and taking responsibility when things don’t go according to plan. It is said that “success belongs to the group, failure belongs to leadership.” A great example of this is when President John F. Kennedy publicly owned the Bay of Pigs debacle and generously shared the successful outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis with his cabinet.
• Encouraging others to follow their internal “compass”, with their values, purpose and passions leading the way.
• Consistently focusing outward in humble service to others.

Whether you are a formally appointed “leader” in the organization that you serve or you are an associate member, by authentically leading your colleagues, customers, constituents, suppliers and other stakeholders, you build personal power and influence that positions you to make a difference for the greater good of your organization – an example for others to follow. Remember that leading from the heart is contagious and inspiring – it’s powerfully authentic!

If you desire to enhance your leadership talents and organizational results through authentically leading a fully engaged and passionate team, give Dave, Susan and me a call – we are here to serve!

Author’s note: Several of my comments were inspired and supported by David Irvine and Jim Reger, authors of “The Authentic Leader”.