Introducing Authentic Leadership

I recently re-read a book having bought it for a friend. The book is called True North by Bill George and Peter Sims, a great book on the subject of authentic leadership. Reading it again I realised that to me at least it stands alongside Robert K Greenleaf’s work on Servant Leadership as the most meaningful, powerful and transformational books on leadership I’ve read.

Having previously written a series of articles on Servant Leadership based on Greenleaf’s work I felt challenged to do the same on the subject of Authentic Leadership based on the work of George and Sims. The series I wrote on Servant Leadership was personally challenging but rewarding and enjoyable. I am hoping this series on Authentic Leadership will be equally so. In beginning to think about the series I am struck by how complementary the constructs of Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership are. I will reflect on this as we journey.

With help from George and Sims I will talk about the attributes and benefits of authentic leadership. In the meantime I’ll leave you with the thought that authenticity is one of the most powerful attributes of leadership. It is difficult for me to lead others whilst struggling with who I am. Those who are led by leaders who do not know who they are can get caught in the turbulence of the identity dissonance of the leader as he or she struggles to work out who they are. Conversely those who are led by leaders who know who they are benefit from a leader who not only realises it’s not about them but a leader who is able to focus time and energy on inspiring, developing and empowering those they lead.

I’ll let George and Sims have the final word:

A dramatic shift is taking place today in the calibre and character of new leaders. These leaders recognise that leadership is not about their success or about getting loyal subordinates to follow them. They know the key to a successful organisation is having empowered leaders at all levels, including those who have no direct reports. 
Authentic leaders not only inspire those around them, they empower them to step up and lead. Thus we offer a new definition of leadership. The authentic leader brings people together around a shared purpose and empowers them to step up and lead authentically in order to create value for all stakeholders.

They go on to describe authentic leaders as:

… genuine people who are true to themselves and to what they believe in. They engender trust and develop genuine connections with others. Because people trust them, they are able to motivate others to high levels of performance. Rather than letting the expectations of other people guide them, they are prepared to be their own person and go their own way. As they develop as authentic leaders, they are more concerned about serving others than they are about their own success or recognition.

Note the interesting reference to servant leadership in the last sentence!

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant