With a wave of corporate scandals and unethical activities in organizations over the past two decades there is a growing interest in a form of leadership that embraces ethics, values and authenticity. Authentic leadership has received lots of attention in recent years with several high-profile business and political leaders advocating for and demonstrating authentic leadership (see Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, Jacinda Arden and Richard Branson). Authentic leadership is described as a pattern of leader behaviour that demonstrates a high level of self-awareness, has a strong moral compass, considers multiple perspectives and information and builds authentic relationships with others.
Read on to understand more about these four elements of Authentic Leadership:
Authentic leaders understand their own values, beliefs, emotions, self-identities, abilities, and attitudes. They have a clear and stable self-identity and have high levels of self-acceptance. In other words, they have got things figured out, know who they are and have high emotional intelligence. You could describe authentic leaders as being self-actualized - although this is a journey not a destination.
How do you rate yourself for self-awareness?
Do you know what values are important to you and what are your EQ strengths and weaknesses?
- 2. Balanced Processing of Information
Authentic leaders' welcome feedback and use it to make fully informed decisions without becoming defensive. They know that the best ideas are a result of team collaboration, and do not get hung up on their own ego and being the best. They are motivated by a desire to improve and are open to the growth that comes from feedback and mistakes. The goal is to make decisions that are the best for the group, organization, or society and is not about personal benefit to the leader.
How do you rate yourself for balanced processing?
Do you seek out feedback and alternative perspectives regularly?
- 3. Relational Transparency
This aspect of authentic leadership is about presentation of the leader's true self, not wearing a superficial mask of what the leader thinks they should be. They resist the temptation to misrepresent themselves and instead disclose information in an open and transparent fashion. Authentic leaders share their thoughts and feelings openly but do so in a way that is appropriate for the workplace. By role modeling transparency and honesty, they create a climate where others can do the same.
How do you rate yourself for relational transparency?
Do you speak your mind and openly share how you are feeling?
- 4. An Internalized Moral Perspective
This refers to how closely aligned a leader is with their own values and standards. An authentic leader will have a high level of moral awareness and will be motivated to live in alignment with their core values and do what is right and fair for employees, the organization, and society. Actions are determined by values and beliefs, not a desire to be liked and admired or to retain power. Put simply, authentic leaders do the right thing.
How do you rate yourself for moral perspective?
Do you live in alignment with the values and beliefs that matter most to you? Do you practice integrity, altruism, humility and fairness?
Put simply, authentic leaders do the right thing.
What are the benefits of authentic leadership?
Authentic leaders tend to be confident, clear and act with integrity. This is a powerful combination for increasing influence of employees who, in an environment of authentic leadership, feel like they have more connection and personal identification with the leader. Where the leader is particularly skilled at communicating their own values, this will be particularly effective for forming connections and increasing the likability of the leader.
Commitment and Optimism
Where leaders can articulate an appealing vision that reflects core values, model behaviours and express optimism and encouragement this will spread to employees who will copy the behaviour of the leader and feel a similar sense of positivity in the organization and its goals.
Trust will be built between an authentic leader and their followers assuming that they can gauge in both authentic and appropriate emotional expression and information sharing. Authentic leaders that seek to openly share all information and express emotions that are not appropriate for the situation will undermine trust.
Research shows that followers of authentic leaders experience less stress and high levels of psychological well-being. The safe environment created by authentic leaders in which people are free to share the challenges and emotions creates an environment of psychological safety which helps to buffer against the negative effects of workplace demands.
Authentic leadership has demonstrated links to other positive organizational outcomes such as creativity, higher job performance, work engagement, job satisfaction, leader satisfaction and higher levels of firm financial performance.
Is there a dark side?
As with most things you can have too much of a good thing. Authentic leaders need to be careful that they are sharing in an appropriate way with team members and especially being considerate of different cultures and knowing that what might be ok for some may not be ok for others. There will be times when it is not appropriate for leaders to share all their feelings and hold some things back. This is a balance between being authentic and being aware that as a leader your impact on the team is greater than anyone else and your words, emotions and actions are amplified.
How do I become a more authentic leader?
Firstly, think about your ratings for the four areas of authentic leadership above which area are you already performing well in? Which area requires development? To develop your authentic leadership behaviours, start small and try out different behaviors at work. Big rapid changes will be met with uncertainty from team members and can feel unsafe for the leader. Try some of the actions below to get started on your journey of authentic leadership.
- Feedback - Ask from someone who is likely to be honest. It doesn't matter what the feedback is about or what feedback you get, what matters is how you receive it. Be open, be humble and be grateful for the feedback.
- Live your values - Pick one of your top values and be intentional about aligning your actions with that value for one week. Communicate this to your team where appropriate so they know how your behaviours are driven by your core values.
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