There's a lot of talk in business circles right now about authentic leadership. Despite its increasing popularity for over a decade, it's easy to misunderstand what it's all about. I've heard people in many different workplaces justifying unhelpful behaviours or inappropriate management styles by saying, "I'm just being me - I'm being authentic."
The issue I have with this is that authentic leadership isn't, and never has been, about being 'stuck' in our current ways of being and doing, unable or unwilling to step outside our own bubbles of experience to ask what others might be thinking or feeling. On the contrary, it's about a journey towards being your best self. That's your best self at work and home, because an authentic leader knows they can't separate into two different people.
So what is this journey? Kevin Kruse, a leadership and employee engagement specialist, links authentic leadership to:
· Being self-aware and genuine.
· Being mission driven and focused on results.
· Leading with the heart and not with the mind. (Remember, great results have always been about connections with people.)
· Focusing on the long term.
It sounds great, doesn't it? But how many managers do you know who do all that - or even some of it? I know it's possible because I've met some authentic leaders in my time. They're not perfect, but they definitely meet Kruse's criteria and they're definitely on a journey towards their best self. That's the good news, that just trying to take the journey means you're already succeeding as an authentic leader. And there's no doubt that - for the people I've met - it's having a positive impact on them, the people around them and the results they're getting.
From an HR and L&D perspective, however, authentic leadership can pose something of a challenge. Just how do you grow the authentic leaders that your business tells you are needed when it's a lifelong journey, highly personal to the individual and something that needs to evolve organically, making it difficult to plan or predict? Fortunately, there is an answer. In my experience, authentic leadership always starts from a common point of self-awareness. Self-awareness CAN be planned for and developed, and by doing that part well you're equipping your people with the tools they need to get started on the longer, self-driven journey towards authentic leadership.
Of course, positioning is key. Becoming more self-aware can be quite uncomfortable. Employees need to know the why as well as the what, feel supported as well as challenged, and empowered to do something with their findings rather than just filing away the results under the mental label of "interesting but not a priority for action".
What kind of self-awareness activities can you consider introducing at work? At Keystone, we've found all of the following useful at various times and with different clients:
· Diagnostic and psychometric tools.
· 360° feedback.
· 1-2-1 coaching.
· Line manager involvement/progress and review conversations.
· Workshops centred on the theme of "understanding myself and interactions with others".
· Workplace coaching and mentoring.
· Work-based projects with stakeholder/team feedback.
· Various personal development and reflective learning tools.
Give people this kind of input with the right positioning and contextualisation and, whether they're a team leader, middle manager, shop floor worker or member of the board, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes for your organisation.
Some businesses fear giving people this development because they anticipate a time of turbulence as employees start to have open and honest two-way dialogue, stop sweeping things under the carpet, take ownership of addressing issues and speak more truthfully. But part of becoming a more authentic leader is learning to have adult-to-adult interactions, understanding one's own feelings and the impact of these on your behaviours with others and being able to hold effective conversations with others in all circumstances, so the solution is built in to the development process. In fact, it should lead to healthy debate, collaborative behaviours and peaceful conflict resolution. And let's face it - wouldn't we all like to see more of that at work?
Blog post by Esther Patrick MInstLM, MIfL, MAAMET, AMAICTP works for Keystone as a leadership, management and talent development consultant and business coach. Her book Management: The Essential Guide was published in summer 2013.