Authentic Leadership: Integrating Your Life

In their book True North, George and Sims suggest that one of the attributes of authentic leaders is an integrated life. They go on to explain:

To lead an integrated life, you need to bring together the major elements of your personal life and professional life, including work, family, community, and friends, so that you can be the same person in each environment. ….. to integrate your life, you must remain grounded in your authentic self, especially when the outside world is chaotic. Well-grounded leaders have a steady and confident presence. They do not show up as one person one day and another person the next day.

So the first and perhaps most obvious point is that authentic leaders know who they are and consistently uphold the virtue of “to thine own self be true”. I think it’s impossible to be authentic without knowing who you are. Not knowing who they are leaves leaders exposed to the fickleness of their feelings, fellows and followers.

I’m sure many of us will think about bringing together the major elements of our lives as a balancing act and a hugely challenging one at that as we seek to maintain our so-called work life balance. Interestingly Warren Bennis, is not convinced about the idea of work life balance:

Balance is an engineering term that means you put the little weights on each side, and if you’re really a good person, you’ll come out equal. We have to be aware that we swing back and forth. It is choices all the time, not balance.
Warren Bennis.

So the second and perhaps less obvious point is that integrating our lives isn’t just about me being me whenever I show up it is me deciding where and when I am going to show up – the restaurant for a business dinner or the school for prizegiving. A lack of authenticity is often expressed through choices based on what other people think, not what I value.

It’s at this point I am struck by the similarity between the words integrated and integrity and realise that integrity, viewed through the lens of George and Sims research, is making value based choices about where I turn up and when I turn up, and simply being my authentic self wherever and whenever I turn up. In my experience as a husband, father and leader seeking to make a difference - even the list sounds exhausting! This is much easier said than done. It requires wisdom, clarity of purpose and courage - all vitally important attributes in my quest to be an authentic leader. Reflecting on my journey I admit I have not always got this right. I will never forget missing my daughter (unexpectedly) receiving school sports personality of the year award at an awards evening because I chose to attend a meeting. If I could have that time back I would make a very different decision.

Albert Camus says life is the sum of the choices we make. If that’s true then my life and yours will be summed up in five columns based on the choices we make.

The time we spent on:

• Ourselves

• Our family

• Our friends

• Our community

• Our work

Whilst for many of us work dominates the horizon of our lives it’s often quoted, no-one on their death bed says “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”. When I talk about time management I always say that time is more valuable than money – you can earn more money but you cannot earn more time – we should spend time as equally wisely as money. It strikes me the older I get the less time I have left the more valuable it becomes the more careful I am about how I spend it.

So the key then to living authentically is to live intentionally. George and Sims quote John Donahoe, president of eBay;

The world will shape you if you let it. To have a sense of yourself as you live, you must make conscious choices.”

In other words living and leading authentically requires that we live and lead intentionally.

If to live and to lead authentically is to live and to lead intentionally then to live and lead intentionally is to know what matters most, to have a goal, to have understood what success means for you, your life and your leadership and allow this to shape the choices you make. It’s on this point I will land in conclusion.

John Donahoe further says;

My ultimate goal is to have an impact and be an authentic business person, as well as the kind of father, husband, friend and human being I want to be. The human-being side is the highest goal and ultimate challenge.”

He measures his success by the number of lives he can influence whilst being the type of husband, father, friend, and person he would like to be.

George and Sims quote Dermot Dunphy of Sealed Air who says;

“The most important is to love and be loved. The second is to be respected. The third is to possess a sense of honour. It’s how you feel about yourself early in the morning when you get up and look at yourself in the mirror.”

I’ll sign off with some challenging but hopefully helpful food for thought questions:

• What does success for your life look like?

• How is that thought shaping where and when you turn up?

• How integrated is your life?

• How many versions of you are there?

And a quote from the wonderful Brene Brown which pretty much sums it up:

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make everyday. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
Brene Brown


Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant