The Struggle For Authentic Leadership


I have a begun to take issue with leadership development. Not the basic premise of it, but rather what it has unfortunately morphed into. The point of leadership development is to become better through process. It is meant to be a journey of discovery and struggle for a greater good. The unfortunate bit is it has become a check-box on a training card for many organizations and leaders.

I recently wrote a post titled, Why Segmenting Organizational Development Doesn’t Work, on my company’s blog. It is a bit of a rant about my pet hate surrounding the industrialization of the service sector, but it points to a bigger problem. In our Western, linear view of the world, we tend to break things up into chunks; it helps us understand. Fair enough. We use this approach in how we train because it makes sense – at least at first glance.

Because of the ongoing demands on our time, we slot these chunks into our calendars and time management tools. We get this warm, gooey feeling of being diligent, responsible and efficient. We go down our to-do list feverishly checking things off as we feed our ego its daily dose of productivity narcissism.

The point of leadership development is to become better through process. It is meant to be a journey of discovery and struggle for a greater good.

The end result? Leadership development becomes a segment of an ongoing training regimen, which is better at filling up space on our CV than actually giving us the opportunity to change for the sake of genuine improvement.

While it is tough to parse out, I believe the leadership attribute hit hardest by this mentality is that of authenticity. It becomes a predefined idea of what authenticity can look like for a particular person. Often times what that authentic leader should look like is developed in the imagination of the person who needs to be authentic the most.

As a way to check off the leadership training box, it can be oh-so-tempting to pick out the obvious parts of one’s personality or tendencies and then fabricate catch phrases and robotic routines to underscore them. What a cheap commentary on what authenticity can be. It’s as if the thought, “Authenticity. I can fake that.” is a reasonable idea to the ever-training, time-efficient, check-box chasing professional.

Authenticity is so much uglier and complicated than that. It is an internal struggle to become better by admitting the ugly. It is being vulnerable by revealing passion that may not be popular or well-received.

Authenticity is a call to – metaphorically, please let it be metaphoric – face the world naked.

Authenticity is an internal struggle to become better by admitting the ugly.

It is embracing, sharing and sharing your human condition (warts and all) as a means to encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, you are merely leading others to be as closed and disingenuous as you are.

I have recently gone through a patch where I had to confront my level of authenticity as a leader. The thing I have noticed is that each time I have been in this place, people are so relieved to experience authenticity, there is more support than criticism. That is energy and makes me feel empowered to do even more!

Authenticity is confrontational and empowering at the same time. It demands work for its reward. Where can you be more authentic in your leadership?

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Image credit- nexusplexus / 123RF Stock Photo copy

William is the Executive Director of The Leadership Advisor, an OD consulting company that works that globally with organizations in the areas of leadership, culture and employee engagement. His message "Human Flourishing is Profitable" has helped earn him the distinction of being an ambassador for the European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN), which is supported by the European Commission. William is a playful, witty and painfully honest speaker with a no non-sense approach. He is also the author of Personal Ecology: Self Management and the Art of Cultivating Healthy Relationships.

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