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  • Writer's pictureChris O'Connor

An Authentic Leader

How many times have we had a boss like the one in Dilbert (see below)? A leader who just doesn’t get it. One who really is out for himself and does nothing for his people.

We’ve all had one like this. And what is it that rubs us the wrong way about this type of a leader? Other than the fact they are not the kind of person with whom you want to associate. Okay, well, it’s simple. We are talking about leaders who lack AUTHENTICITY.

Authenticity is:

· The ability to be genuine, and not copied or fake.

· It is someone who is completely unaffected, a person who is not trying to be something he/she’s not.

It can be kind of funny when we look for examples like Michael Scott from The Office, and it can be scary when we find leaders like Kenneth Lay from Enron. Either way, these leaders put the Organizational Health of a company at risk.

The truth is that some companies can in fact achieve 'success' with unhealthy leadership. But usually that success is defined in terms that accommodate the unhealthy leader. And, real success is almost always unsustainable. If a leader only has an egocentric view of the world, the company is destined for trouble, and with it - the people who work for and depend on that company..

According to “The Authenticity Paradox” (Hermina Ibarra, Harvard Business Review, January 2015): “Authenticity has emerged as the gold standard for leadership.”

So, let’s talk more about AUTHENTICITY, because it can hinder your growth and limit your impact. The key question you are probably asking yourself is: “That’s all nice, but how can I really tell if I am, or someone else, is an Authentic or Inauthentic Leader?”

Here is a quick guide (see left) of characteristics for both types that you can use.

Why do people who work for you and those you support value this Authenticity thing so much?

Authentic leaders more readily create the conditions to build credibility, gain trust, and demonstrate courage in the face of hard things like speaking truth to power. Authentic leaders are human. People can identify with and connect with you, and they can sense that you want that too.

Is there any hope for the Inauthentic leader? Of course there is. On paper, authentic and inauthentic become very binary, but in the real world, leaders travel a path between authentic and inauthentic. It is natural that most leaders are working towards the 'right' direction, but some find themselves tracking the other way from time to time.

It is consistent with the responsibilities of leaders to work to resolve inauthentic behaviors and promote a more genuine character. Such a character will not only inspire people, but also cause teams to mimic healthy behaviors and strengthen the organization. In this way, authenticity stands as one of the best investments a leader can make.

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Chris O'Connor

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