Authentic Leadership

I’ve had a few occasions over the past week to think about authenticity.
Being authentic is one of my most fundamental values. The other day I worked with a colleague who was struggling to find her own authentic response to a difficult situation as well as trying to guide her organisation to find a similar authentic response.
Then along came BOSS magazine last Friday. (I try to set aside every Friday morning for some general reading. BOSS magazine is my regular reading the second Friday of each month.)
BOSS’s cover story was “Authentic Leadership”. Now if you read the article please ignore the sub-heading which sounds like the work of Deputy Editor Catherine Fox. Fox has an unforunate habit of starting every article she writes with “Forget …. [insert second latest fad here].” I find this so annoying. I hate fad surfing. Fox promotes it by suggesting everything she writes about replaces the last thing she wrote about. I mean why bother writing about something if it’s value lasts only until next month’s article. It seems to me an incredible shallow approach to the important things in life.
I take particular issue with it this month because it is the antithesis to the subject of the article.
Authenticity is lasting. It is fundamental. I think Jim Collins would suggest that some things are really fundamental and lasting.
Regarding authenticity, what is it? According to BOSS writer, Mike Hanley, it is “being yourself”. However according to lead thinker for the article, Rob Goffee, “Jay Conger professor of organisational development at the London Business School” it is more than this – “it is an artful authenticity.”
I’ve put Goffee’s book Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? (HBR OnPoint Enhanced Edition) on my Amazon wish list and I’m interested in his thoughts. However, the way BOSS presents it (and I’m willing to suspend judgement), I fear that Goffee is advocating a “manufactured” authenticity.
Sure I think that being authentic will inspire the people who follow you, but that’s not a reason to seek “authenticity”.
Authenticity is just that. Authentic. It is not about being authentic so that you can get more out of the people who work for you. It is about being authentic because it is the right thing to do.
My definition of authentic adds to the one above. I suggest it is “being true to yourself.” Knowing your own values and being true to them. Knowing what you think is right and doing it. Of course you will find circumstances that will challenge your values. Circumstances that will cause you to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to take a shortcut, rather than face up to a difficult situation. How you or I handle this depends on our own conscience. Being authentic though means at least we get our conscience invvolved adn make that decision with referecne to our values.
Too often leaders do what they think other people demand of them and ignore their moral or ethical qualms. Being authentic means making their own decisions with regard to the circumstances and their own internal compass.
That is the type of leadership I find inspiring.

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