This article describes Authentic Leadership in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition and basics of this powerful leadership philosophy.
What is Authentic Leadership?
The American management & business professor Bill George already wrote about the concept of authentic leadership in his 2003 book Authentic Leadership. It revolves around the leader’s ethical behaviour. Authentic leadership starts with the leader’s awareness that allows him to build positive relationships and inspire and encourage employees in the right ways. An atmosphere of openness is key. According to George, one of the core qualities of a leadership role is authenticity. Without actually being authentic, a leader will never be able to appear as if he is. It requires a leader to be self-aware and have the ability to recognise and acknowledge his own strengths and weaknesses.
Authentic Leadership has a lot of characteristics, but it’s important to first consider the qualities that go with this leadership style. First of all, an authentic leader is self-aware and sincere. He knows himself, knows what he’s worth and knows his limitations. By showing his true nature, he is rewarded with respect from the people around him. Secondly, an authentic leader is selfless. Achieving organisational goals is a shared result, not something for him to boast about as an individual.
An authentic leader doesn’t go for power, money, and his ego. An authentic leader puts the interest of the organisation first. He does, however, focus on the long term, helping to steer the organisation in the right direction. Authentic leaders aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability and feelings. They’re able create a connection with their employees. This definitely doesn’t mean they’re pushovers. It’s about empathy without sacrificing rationality. Authentic leaders are reliable and trustworthy, and people respect them. They take responsibility and expect others to do the same. They can listen to their own intuition and voice opinions based on their personal observations.
Authentic Leadership Characteristics
In addition to qualities, there are also characteristics that authentic leaders show in their behaviour. One of these characteristics is directly related to the qualities. The most distinct qualities of authentic leaders are listed below:
In addition to being self-aware and knowing his strengths and weaknesses, he’s also transparent. He encourages open communication and is willing to discuss successes as well as failures. He doesn’t keep a secret list of observations. He calls people on it when their behaviour is unacceptable.
He handles private and confidential situations with integrity and will never betray that confidence. This makes people respect him.
His behaviour is consistent; the people around him know what they can expect from their authentic leader. He’s a constant factor within the organisation, helping to inspire others.
He listens. He shows sincere interest in other people and their opinions and ideas. He encourages open communication and wants his employees to form a bond.
It’s important to him that there are a clear vision and mission. The long-term goal should be clear for everyone in the organisation.
He encourages others and is able to raise them up to a higher level. This will help employee confidence. He shares successful results with his people to inspire and motivate them.
In practice, workers don’t need a lot of time to know the type of leader they’re dealing with. Authentic leaders are often appreciated because they can rely on him and don’t have to worry about surprises. It’s important that an authentic leader holds on to his core values and is aware that employees may have different or even opposing views, motivations, and goals. Here again it’s important to keep communication open and involve everyone in the organisation’s vision and goals. Authenticity is part of the leader’s personality. However, there are strategies that can nudge less experienced leaders in the right direction. It should be noted that the man or woman employing this leadership style should be sincere about it. If it’s just an act, it won’t have anything to do with authenticity. The following strategies can help to employ the authentic leadership style:
Listen and share
Proper listening is the foundation for a good relationship with employees and stakeholders. In addition to listening, it’s important to let people bounce ideas of you and consider other people’s opinions. By sharing ideas, information, suggestions, and opinions with each other at regular intervals (for instance during meetings) employees will be better able to express themselves freely and be open to one another.
A principled attitude shows that the leader sticks to decisions he made earlier. Despite the fact that he sometimes has to make decisions that are unpopular, this will make him reliable. Unless there’s a good and clear reason to do so, reversing an earlier decision will hurt his credibility.
It’s easy to be critical. The key is how you do it. It’s important that criticism is given in a constructive and diplomatic manner. The person getting the feedback shouldn’t be struggling with it emotionally afterwards. Sensitive topics always need to be handled with integrity and in a constructive way, preferably face to face.
Each day and every situation is different. This means that goals have to be adjusted frequently. For the sake of the organisation’s mission and vision, it’s better if the authentic leader sticks to a realistic goal that has been set in advance. It’s only acceptable to deviate from this if there are good and demonstrable reasons to do so. Focusing on the end goal makes the leader self-aware and effective.
Delegating means handing over control and learning to rely on others. This is difficult for many leaders. The most classic mistake that is commonly made in this respect is looking over employees’ shoulders and correcting them. Delegating is also part of authentic leadership and offers the option to rely on the knowledge and skills of your employees.
Less experienced leaders can take these strategies as advice. On top of this, it would be good to look at their own teachers and use a (former) superior as a role model for leadership. People who are considered authentic leaders display behaviour that can serve as an example. It can even be the kind of behaviour that isn’t considered positive. Avoiding this type of behaviour can also be something to consider for your own actions. Sparring with other exemplary leaders can provide insight into authentic interactions with your employees.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? What is your experience with Authentic Leadership? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for encouraging and supporting employees in achieving their goals?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Avolio, B. J., & Gardner, W. L. (2005). Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. The leadership quarterly, 16(3), 315-338.
- George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. John Wiley & Sons.
- George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A. N., & Mayer, D. (2007). Discovering your authentic leadership. Harvard business review, 85(2), 129.
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