Last week I attended a leadership development program which was a bit different to the typical programs I’ve attended in the past. I think it’s the first program where every single person had different takeaways because it depended on where you’re at in your leadership journey.
One of the things we discussed which struck a chord was around authentic leadership. Essentially authentic leadership is about being your true self, building legitimacy through honest relationships and creating an environment where people can be open. In order to achieve this, a leader needs to be clear on their purpose, know what their passion is and define the principles that are a priority to them.
I was reasonably familiar with authentic leadership and what it stood for but never quite understood what the business benefits were. Thankfully in the program we were treated to a mini lecture from one of the founders of a business school which was very informative. What he shared was extremely fascinating in terms of the evolution of organisations which really helped explain some of the experiences I have had in my working life.
Essentially an organization was born as a mechanism to organize people. Back in the day the feudal lords needed a mechanism to manage people who worked for them and in those days people had no autonomy. They were simply told what to do. In order to ensure these people were performing their tasks, supervisors were hired to check their work. Above them you had to ensure that the ‘checkers’ were doing the ‘checking’ and so bosses were installed and so on and on we went up the food chain till you get to the feudal lord, or CEO. This was an era of command and control – which no doubt still exists in some organisations today.
The next broad era of organizational evolution saw the transition into fostering autonomy. People no longer were told what to do instead they were given a ‘problem’ and charged with coming up with a solution. This era saw the rise of situational leadership. This era was about adapting your leadership style based on what the circumstances demanded. If the people in your organization were capable and had clearly defined objectives then your role might be to coach and support them. Once you’ve been coaching them and they are now flying you might need to empower them to make more decisions. Once they feel empowered as a leader you get out of their way and let them thrive. Does this sound familiar? I’m sure you’d agree that a lot of organisations are still in this era.
And then we come to authentic leadership. This was born because we are now living in a time where no one knows with any level of certainty what is going to happen in the foreseeable future. Will we own cars? Or will we have driverless cars that we will summon from our smartphone? Will we own houses or will we all live in an Airbnb?
With technology evolving at the speed of lightning we have vague ideas of what life will be like. As a result what you need to foster in organisations is creativity, collaboration and diversity in order to harness the power of the collective to solve problems. It has been proven time and time again that the power in problem solving and executing comes with different views coming together under shared objectives to deliver an outcome. As such this era more than any before calls for all of us to be true to who we are as individuals. If we pandered to the dominant voice then we’d be sacrificing creativity and diversity which will impair outcomes.
And so it makes sense that the fundamentals of authentic leadership is purpose and passion. In order to foster creativity and diversity then people need to be themselves. In order for this to happen the leaders need to role model these behaviours. And therefore as a leader you need to be clear on your purpose as well as what you are passionate about.
Needless to say I felt very much at ease in the leadership program – much more than all of the previous ones I had attended given I am more certain what my purpose and passion in life is.
Upon reflection I was very thankful to be living in an era where being passionate about something is encouraged. I’m not sure I’d cope to well living in the feudal era!
And so I’d encourage you to count yourself lucky too. You have an opportunity to be who you are and go after what you love – we need this to continue thriving as a society.