Many years ago I read a cartoon in a newspaper where a woman was pictured along with her exasperated husband. The text bubble from the man said:

“You have moulded and changed me since the day we met and now you have the nerve to tell me I’m NOT the man you married!”

The question is, should the man have stayed true to himself (authentic) and not allowed himself to be ‘moulded’ by his spouse?

The concept of ‘authenticity’ has been talked about and studied since the time of Plato and Confucius but Bill George’s book entitled simply “Authentic Leadership” bought it to our attention in terms of modern management in 2003.

The definition of ‘authentic’ is “real, genuine, not a fake or a copy”. If that’s the case then surely a Tyrant is only authentic if he/she is consistently true to their ‘type’ and always tyrannical? A naturally pessimistic person is only authentic when being consistently pessimistic?

As an educator it is my job to ‘develop people’ and by its very nature development requires change!

It is said that Authentic Leadership crosses the boundary between work and private life but in reality where do you draw the line on that? I suspect that most people including leaders and managers put on some sort of an ‘act’ at work. We learn through training courses and the use of psychometric profile tools how we are perceived by others and how we need to “adapt” to communicate more effectively with them! But how can we adapt and yet still be authentic?

For example the Johari Window* technique informs us that there is part of what we know about ourselves that we are unwilling to share openly with other people (The Hidden Area/Window). Can you ever really be authentic if this is the case?

You may have gathered by now that I’m not a fan of the term Authentic Leadership! This is true but do I have an alternate solution? Well not exactly but I do have some thoughts:

  • I have worked for leaders in the past that I totally trusted and had utter confidence in their ability to lead the company, but I didn’t like them as people.
  • I have also worked under some truly lovely people, but that I didn’t trust had the business acumen to lead the organisation effectively.
  • Great leaders must adapt to the circumstances faced by the business. They must be at times be a ‘calm in a storm’ (reassuring) and at other times the ‘storm in a calm’ (energising)©

Great leaders for me then are the ones that I trust implicitly. How do they gain that trust? By saying what they will do and then delivering on their promises time and time again. Do I have to like them? No, I simply have to respect their ability as a leader!

A friend recently commented that; “many managers are rubbish leaders” and “many great leaders have no management position at all.” In their opinion “great leadership is the ability to influence others through a vision that you live and breathe and being able to bring others along on the ride, just as enthusiastically as you!” I can’t argue with any of that.

Use the term Authentic Leadership if you want to, but for me the ‘real leader’ is the one that has the trust and respect of their people because they make the courageous decisions that we would rather not have to make ourselves!

What do you think?

*The Johari window is a technique created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 and is used to help people to better understand their relationship with themselves and others.

A great leader is a ‘calm in a storm’ (reassuring) and a ‘storm in a calm’ (energising) © The Sales Performance Company 2015