In their book, Learning to Lead, Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith write, “To be authentic is literally to be your own author (the words derive from the same Greek root), to discover your native energies and desires, and then find your own way of acting on them. When you have done that, you are not existing simply to live up to an image posed by the culture or by family tradition or some other authority. When you write your own life, you have played the game that was natural for you to play. You have kept covenant with your own promise.”
Genuine leadership comes from within. It’s built on a foundation of honesty and integrity. It goes beyond reputation and personality; it is a function of character.” Ringing true to me. It calls for ever-deepening honesty and integrity in my self-awareness and reflections. It also means obtaining continual feedback from others to see how they see me. This is essential if, as a leader, I am attempting to influence or change others.
In the research for his book, Discover Your True North, Harvard Business School professor, Bill George and his team interviewed 172 authentic leaders. From this work he recommends these steps to strengthening authentic leadership:
- Explore their life stories and their crucibles
- Engage in reflection and introspective practices
- Seeking honest feedback
- Understand their leadership purpose
- Become skilled at tailoring their style
As I wrote in “Authentic Leadership Comes from Building Our Strengths“, most leadership development approaches and competency models focus on improving weaker areas. Needs assessments and performance evaluations look for gaps and design training or build improvement plans to fix weaknesses. A key reason for the high failure rate of this typical approach stems from attempts to change a leader’s stripes. Much deeper authenticity — and much higher success — comes from building a leader’s natural strengths.