“In the end, it’s the quality and character of the leader that determines an organization’s performance and results. Think about this in relation to the job of transmitting the organization’s values. It’s not enough for the leader just to say, ‘There are our values.’ If those values are really going to permeate the organization, the leader has to embody them. The army has a wonderful shorthand. They say, ‘Be, know, do.’ I believe that any discussion of leadership has to begin with how to be.” — Frances Hesselbein, chair of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation

We all know that strong leaders are the real deal. They embody the leadership clichйs like “walk the talk” or “lead by example.” Strong leaders maintain a close connection between what they say and what they do. Their video is in sync with their audio. The vision (and values and purpose) they set out for their team or organization is no different from what they set out for their own lives. Leaders don’t try to make others into something that they are not themselves.

A Penn State survey found that managers who are well aware of their leadership style are more likely to succeed at their jobs than their peers. The study’s author, John Sasik, associate professor of management and organization, concludes, “Leaders need to be aware of the way they present themselves to their followers. Self-aware managers tend to be the best performers because they are able to change their behavior and adapt to changes in the organizational environment, whether that’s new technology, working with people from different cultures or leading new business initiatives.”

Being self-aware includes being aware emotionally. The first of four components of the Emotional Competence framework, posted on the web site for the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations deals with: “Emotional Awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and their effects. People with this competence:

  • Know which emotions they are feeling and why.
  • Realize the links between their feelings and what they think, do, and say. 
  • Recognize how their feelings affect their performance.
  • Have a guiding awareness of their values and goals.”

The importance of being self-aware is not a new concept. The Greek philosopher, Diogenes, 412-323 B.C., alluded to it: “When Thales was asked what was difficult, he said, ‘To know one’s self.’ And what was easy, ‘To advise another.'”

Authenticity isn’t something you can fake – although we all know managers who think they can get ahead by doing so. These wannabe leaders are like Groucho Marx who declared, “I’ve got strong values. I am going to stand tough on those values. And if you don’t like those values…I’ve got others.”

Authentic leaders build the trust that bridges the gaps between “us and them.” Such leaders have high integrity and consistency. They foster environments of openness and transparency, which gets real issues on the table. Their personal authenticity encourages authentic conversations that pull the team together. As a result, teams get to the heart of performance issues rather than playing politics or sucking up to the boss.

Authentic leaders are self-aware leaders. According to Cynthia Tragge-Lakra, Manager of Executive Development, General Electric, “The first piece of advice we give to people who come to GE’s management training center in Crotonville, NY is, ‘Get to know your own style.’ We try to help each person discover how he or she is most effective as a leader… whatever their styles, we can show them the kinds of meetings and review processes that play to their advantage.”

In today’s increasingly skeptical (and, some might say, cynical) society, our BS detectors are getting much better at exposing leadership fakes. Such people are routinely exposed through various media – in television reports, books, newspapers, even by cartoon characters (like the pointy-haired Dilbert boss). They are revealed as “empty suits” who aren’t authentic leaders at all.

What’s worse is that whenever an inauthentic leader is exposed, it adds to people’s suspicion of all leaders – fake and genuine alike. This is a persistent challenge for all those who aspire to grow their leadership, and makes the role of authenticity particularly vital.