Stepping up to “authentic” leadership
Here’s my own struggle with the word “authenticity”: If it means “genuine”, or “true”, then it does not automatically imply any specific values (i.e., the values of the entity pre-exist). Most references to authenticity in leadership material presume that any pre-existing values that will manifest are good.
I am less impressed with our human race. It seems to me that greed and self-preservation are more base drivers than most of us want to admit. We don’t have far to look around the economic landscape of the last 10 years to find leaders who were very “authentic” (i.e., true to themselves), but whose greed caused great destruction.
My own world view is that goodness and selfishness co-exist within each of us. We take actions every day that manifest the choice—some conscious, some not—between those values of goodness and selfishness. What is “authentic” in that moment can vary.
It seems to me that the notion of “authenticity” implies that the work of choosing is natural and inevitable―what is “inevitable” is much less reliable than what we consciously choose.
Furthermore, the notion of “authenticity” changes and reduces the work of choosing. It implies that the work consists of just “listening to your inner voice”. However, we all have experienced conflicting advice from the inner voice. It’s how you choose that determines your actions.
I believe we each need to be more conscious and more deliberate about “how we choose”. Lying underneath the choice are guidelines and parameters we each use to analyse our options. These are values. Some are explicit to us and some may actually be more opaque, less explored.
These values are the key and the work is the engine. We need to MAKE these values authentic.
There is work involved here to be a better leader. For example:
- Firstly, one must know oneself: What do you stand for? What is important to you? Where do you draw the line between what you will and will not do?
- Secondly, one must align with or shape the organization’s values. If the organization prioritizes quarterly returns and you value job creation, get ready to face some personally tough decisions.
- Thirdly, the values we choose as individuals manifest themselves in leadership choices―they have to or they cause us personal conflict. We should be conscious and deliberate about the values, choices and consequences.
In “Fixing the Game”, author Roger Martin makes a very compelling case that the current focus on “the expectations market” (stock market pricing), at the cost of almost anything else, is forcing leaders to lead inauthentic lives (out of sync with their own values). The answer, he argues, is to “turn executives from the useless, vapid task of managing expectations to the psychologically rewarding business of creating value.” This idea resonates with me.
I have come to really appreciate the values of servant leadership. A good friend introduced me to Peter Block’s “Stewardship” and now it’s hard to look back.
Seems to me that we need a few great leaders to step up and figure out how to change “the system” to make this happen.
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