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Five Steps to Building Authentic Leadership

CEOs biking to workLeadership guru, Warren Bennis, says: “letting the self emerge is the essential task of leaders. Indeed, leadership is, first and foremost, all about you. People often have a misguided notion that leadership is about everyone else. But if a leader hasn’t journeyed inside first to get clear on his or her values, strengths, passion and vision, their lack of authentic grounding will cause them to behave in inconsistent ways, eroding trust and undermining their leadership effectiveness.”

Bill is a highly-skilled leader. Self-aware, he makes a concerted effort to create an environment in which each of his team members can be their most effective at work. He has assembled a diverse staff with unique skills and a lot of idiosyncrasies, and he has worked hard to help this staff of stars come together as a cohesive team.
One morning he arrives to find an obviously upset employee, Michelle, sitting in his office. Michelle, who is clearly concerned about the condescending behavior of another colleague, suggests that the work environment Bill created is hostile and not supportive enough for her to do her best work. She feels belittled by her colleague and is seeking Bill’s support to ensure the office in which they work is conducive to delivering top quality service to their clients. As she leaves, Bill thinks about his leadership style. He asks himself if his style has created an environment that promotes a positive work environment for all employees. Is he allowing some people to treat others in a negative or unsupportive way? Is there anything he could do differently to promote a more productive and supportive environment? How can he create an environment that allows unique people to be themselves and, at the same time, work as a cohesive team? Bill’s instincts say he has created a positive environment but now he hears from a valued employee that he may not be doing as well as he thought. Fundamentally, the question becomes: Is Bill’s authentic leadership style supportive of organizational success? Does he need to refine his style or develop as a leader to be both authentic and create a positive environment?

These questions beg a new one: How can leaders be authentic and encourage others to do the same while concurrently meeting the needs of the overall team and organization?
Let’s start with a definition of authenticity from a recent Forbes article by Henry Doss: “Learning about yourself is perhaps the single most important outcome of a powerful educational experience. Self-awareness can lead to an ever-increasing authenticity, which in turn leads to powerful leadership abilities. Authenticity is not about ’accept me for what I am‘; authentic leaders are self-aware, willing to adapt and change and ’be who they are in service to others.’ Education should be a powerful process of increasing self-awareness, of coming to know yourself and of learning the intrinsic value of who you are as a human being. . . and then understanding the need for constant change, personal growth and learning for the rest of your life.” 

Innovative Leadership Model

Innovative Leadership Model

Let’s explore how the five elements of innovative leadership can help leaders become more authentic. By using the five key elements of the innovative leadership pyramid as described below, you become a more authentic and effective leader:

  1. Build your self-awareness by understanding your Leader Type.  Take an assessment to understand yourself; then, learn about your colleagues’ types. By knowing who you are and who they are, you can create an environment in which people are able to comfortably be themselves and create a common language where they understand one another. The balance of self-awareness and understanding others allows colleagues to be authentically who they and also aligned with the culture of the overall group.
  2. Understand your own Developmental Perspective (complexity of thinking, emotional intelligence, and behavior) and the perspectives of others allows you to take the perspective of many different people. By understanding the primary perspective of your colleagues and meeting them where they are, you are showing the highest degree of respect and appreciation. The golden rule of authentic leadership could be “treat people as they need to be treated to perform at their best.” Since we are all unique, and have different expectations, treating others as you want to be treated may create some significant problems for leaders.
  3. Enhancing Resilience includes developing a strong sense of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, and knowing your strengths and preferences. It also includes understanding others’ strengths and preferences, and demonstrating the flexibility to respond to another’s level appropriately. Developing emotional intelligence skills increases your leadership success.
  4. Applying Situational Analysis is the combination of understanding yourself and the organization. By using situational analysis, you are able to understand the balance between your values and the needs of the organization and act in a manner that attends to your authenticity while balancing the organization’s expectations and norms. This means you can read the situation quickly and respond accordingly. This does not mean you change your innate preference or act in a way that is not genuine, but rather in many cases learn to expand your repertoire of skills and behaviors. It is a bit like learning to swing forehand and backhand in tennis. You’ll continue to have preferences, but, by expanding your abilities, you can be both authentic and agile.
  5. Aligning Leadership Behaviors means behaving in a manner that is authentic to you, and appropriate to the organization and situations in which you find yourself. To do this well it means you need access to a broad range of behaviors and have the skills referenced in situational analysis to diagnose the organization’s requirements and your authentic style, and have the skills to balance both.

How can leaders be authentic and encourage others to do the same while concurrently meeting the needs of the overall team and organization? The innovative leadership model offers some support in identifying who you are so you understand what authentic is for you. From there, you will have a strong foundation to determine how to navigate the questions of authenticity and being a good organizational steward. This navigation is the art of leadership.

I will be a presenting Building Authentic Leadership by Innovating how You Lead at the WELD Leadership conference on June 4, 2015 at Otterbein University in Columbus Ohio. Click for more information.

To read more about Authentic Leadership, read the full paper published in Integral Leadership Review.

If you wonder about the image, it is from CEO bike to work day in Columbus, Ohio. This represents for me leaders who model their authentic values through their actions.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

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