It is my experience that successful and sustainable leadership can’t be the same for all, we need to stay true to our style and who we are. Genetics has shown that no two humans are genetically the same; even twins have genetic differences, so why do some leaders continue to remain confused about why one single leadership style doesn’t resonate with the population of their organisations?
Authenticity is demonstrating actions and behaviours that are based on our core values, in other words, what is important to you. Authentic leaders are self-aware and they are not afraid to show their real self to others. Their behaviour doesn’t differ whether they are in the workplace or in private; they certainly don’t hide their mistakes and they share their learning’s to develop others.
Authentic leaders have the goals of the organisation ahead of their own self-interest and they lead with their heart as well as their mind. Authentic leaders take the time and have the commitment to develop other leaders, which results in the longer-term success of organisations.
Disappointingly, are the number of leaders who try being who they think they should be at work, while their authentic personality only appears outside of the workplace. I have heard ‘leaders’ describe leadership as acting, doing what is expected when others are around; any wonder these same leaders are then surprised when people don’t trust them.
Thousands of studies have been conducted in an attempt to determine the repeatable characteristics, styles and personality traits of exceptional leaders, it is my view that to date none of these studies have identified an exact profile of what makes an exceptional leader. If they had, everyone would be trying to imitate it, they would make themselves into a personae and not individuals, others would see through them immediately, leading us back to what I said earlier about distrust in not knowing your leader.
Whilst it is accepted that leadership can be learnt, you must always remember that people trust you when you are genuine and authentic. Kevin Sharer the CEO and president of Amgen an American multinational pharmaceutical company once said, “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.” A statement that I agree with and in my experience has proven for me to be a key success factor.
As authentic leaders we are passionate about purpose; we consistently and overtly display our values and what we hold important to us, and we lead with our hearts as well as our heads. We establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results but most importantly, we know who we are.
Discovering your authentic self requires a continual commitment to exploring and learning about yourself and developing yourself.
The discovery of who I was and am today really began in a defined way throughout my MBA studies where I found myself challenged by different concepts and ways of thinking, reframing things I had once trusted in. These new ways of thinking resulted in better and more sustainable outcomes, it was invigorating.
Although these experiences also shook the foundations that I had built my successful career on and caused me to reflect and reflect deeply, what was happening was the beginning of getting to know my true authentic self, some things I liked, many things I didn’t, I had to discover who I really was, and so the never-ending journey of discovery began.
I can’t imagine a time that I could say that my development has concluded, as I prepare a PhD application for submission on this very topic, I continue to be energised by learning and discovery in a way that is hard to articulate, perhaps it is my addiction.
Different theorists have different slants on the concept of authentic leadership but most agree that authentic leaders are; self-aware and genuine, are mission driven and focused on results, lead with their heart not just their mind, and focus on the long-term.
Therefore in recognition of that, as leaders, we need to take the time to know our people, to respect their differences and to embrace the individuality of each and everyone of them. You must get to know the different personalities of your people and you must respect them.
An exceptional leader will never assume that everyone in a team will perform and respond in the same way to any situation. Some people need a lot of motivation and it is your job to provide it, others will be self-motivated and just need a little encouragement. Some require very clear and defined direction; others will prefer less detail, more autonomy, and the opportunity to be innovative. Some will be extroverts and may be louder and more outgoing, others will be quieter, possibly shy and won’t respond well to confrontation.
As an authentic and successful leader it is up to each of us to understand the personality types of each person in our teams and how we can best lead, direct, motivate and teach them, then we will achieve the response and performance we want and need from all our people.
Flexibility and understanding what the personal needs and situations are of your people is critical to being a successful leader. It is my opinion that it is not only acceptable to have different expectations and relationships with different team members but that as trust is built there is less need for people to be treated in the same way and that to get the best out of them you must work to their strengths.
As a leader you are not expected to be an expert in everything, however, you are expected to surround yourself with the expertise to deliver on expectations. This is where knowing yourself, having the insight to recognise your strengths and to leverage off the strength of others will see you succeed.
I have a team of six executives who report directly to me; I lead each of them differently, I have different expectations of each of them and different relationships with each of them. I need to know how to get the very best results by leveraging off people’s strengths and not having equal expectations for all that I lead. My executive leadership team is at different stages in their own development and leadership journey, so to think that all could be led in the same way would be foolish.
So, I ask you, are you courageous enough to be yourself?