Many organizations these days are talking about authenticity, seeing the value in people bringing their whole selves to work. But is authenticity alone enough?
I’m here to tell you it’s not. Imagine this: Bob is a leader who drives for business results. He’s so intent on hitting his numbers that he pretty much ignores anything that gets in the way of his financial myopia. If his team isn’t performing, he yells at them. When he gets the results he wants, he raises the bar higher. His people are burning out, and attrition on his team is high. His excuse? “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the fire.” Is Bob authentic? It could be that he is. Perhaps he’s just authentically an asshole.
Let’s use Disney to level set: is Captain Hook any less authentic than Peter Pan? Both had a cavalry, both were imperfect, and both were leaders in their own right. The difference was they each had different intentions and different impacts. And when it comes to leadership, impact is what counts.
Rather than authenticity alone, Authentic Leadership combines the ability to be fully oneself with a keen awareness on, and accountability for, impact. That is, impact on business results and impact on people. Authentic leaders have the courage to take a stand for what’s important to them: their values, their beliefs, their dreams and fears – and the compassion to understand that leadership is a social arrangement. You can’t lead if you don’t have people who follow you. These leaders also bring deep curiosity, constantly seeking to uncover their blind spots – those behaviours that might be getting in the way of their full leadership potential.
Most importantly, authentic leaders have the resolve to stay the course. Many senior leaders face pressures from the systems they operate in – deadlines, shareholder expectations, Board requirements. Resilience is constantly tested. But with eyes cast intently on impact, authentic leaders can weather most storms, while also making a lasting imprint on their organizations.
Back to Bob. I’ve seen lots of his type in organizations. If we settle for authenticity alone, we might be inadvertently tolerating poor leadership behaviour. Let’s instead set our sights on higher aspirations. Leaders who take a stand for what they believe in, while staying connected to others and aware of their impact are the leaders we need for the future. Join me in a leadership revolution and ask for more from yourself and from others.