Why We Love Authentic Leaders (And You Should, Too!)

“When you can truly understand how others experience your behaviour, without defending or judging, you then have the ability to produce a breakthrough in your leadership and team. Everything starts with your self-awareness. You cannot take charge without taking accountability, and you cannot take accountability without understanding how you avoid it.”

~ Loretta Malandro ~

In recent years there has been a marked increase in discourse on leadership issues. What remains rather alarming is not only the rapid increase in leadership failure across public and private sectors, but also the scale at which it takes place. Gupta-Gate, Nene-Gate, Steinhoff and Eskom are just a few examples of leadership failure at a scale that dwarfs the Tulip Bubble into a bedtime story.

The question remains:

“Is the rise in leadership failure a result of the increased discourse on leadership or in spite of the increased focus?”

This might sound like a trivial question, but there is more to this question below the surface. This question urges one to consider leadership from a values-based perspective. One might argue that the rise in leadership failure is as a result of the fact that continued focus on leadership has educated stakeholders on what good, effective and moral leadership should look like and thus exposing poor leadership more regularly.

In other words, there is not really an increase in leadership failure but rather an increase in the rate at which it is exposed. On the flip side, leadership failure continues despite the increased emphasis, which points to a degree of moral decay and ethical bankruptcy in society.

Authentic Leadership is one of the newest areas of leadership research. Although there is no single concise definition of the Leadership brand, it encompasses the following according to Peter Northouse:

– Self-concept, and
– Self-regulation, and
– Self-knowledge of the individual leader

The authentic leader in essence is an individual with a thorough knowledge of the “self” and it resembles a type of leadership behaviour rooted in positive psychology and ethics. It is composed of four components according to Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber:

    – Self-awareness relates to one’s knowledge and understanding of motives, desires, feelings and one’s own character.
    – Internalised Moral Perspective is what makes a leader remain true to core beliefs and values and demonstrate actions consistent with words.
    – Balanced Processing refers to the ability of the individual to entertain opposing views and engage in healthy, positive and constructive debate.
    – Relational Transparency refers to one’s ability to reflect an authentic version of oneself; being able to say exactly what you feel and think.

These four components idealise a lofty state of actuality in as far as mere mortals are concerned. The last two especially would pose a significant challenge to most people as a “opposing views” and “speaking your mind” usually results in spontaneous combustion. Perhaps this is a personal reflection and an unfair generalised statement to make in the absence of proof. The world is in dire need of more authentic leaders.

The world is in dire need of more authentic leaders.

There are so many books on leadership based on this concept and that concept, this person and that person, that we have lost our authenticity by emulating others instead of simply focusing on what is good, honest, true, moral and ethical within ourselves. If you need a book to teach you morals and ethics, then you are most probably the one that would steal the book instead of buying it and the exercise would be self-defeating.

The authentic leader appears to be a splendid individual, that rare shiny gem that stands out like a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately, good authentic leadership is as hard to find as a golf ball in the rough.

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