Influential leaders not only have a vision of changing the world, but also have a team of people who are committed to helping achieve that vision. What influential leaders largely have in common is authenticity.
Authentic Leadership is leading others from a place of personal self-awareness, courage, vulnerability, strength, humility, purpose and values. Personal self-awareness plays a major role in the development of authentic leadership. However, according to the research of organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, up to 95% of people think they are self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are1. This means that leaders have a lot of work to do to achieve authenticity.
With authentic leaders, what you see is what you get – they don’t act one way in private and another in public. They’re committed to take the personally challenging path and trust the benefits of doing so are exponentially greater than the discomfort they experience on the journey. Authentic leaders are all in when it comes to practicing their values and leading towards a compelling purpose. They lead with their hearts and minds to connect with the hearts and minds of others. They are invested in the long term with people and strategy to achieve their purpose. They plan for the future, not only for the organization but also for themselves, for their teams and for their relationships. They have a growth mindset and possess an openness for learning.
Because authentic leaders are purpose-driven, the journey to authentic leadership starts with understanding the story of your life, and using your experiences as a source of inspiration and drive to make a difference in the world – to give meaning to your life. By exploring your story, you’ll find context and inspiration for the impact you want to create in the world. Your life, as you’ve experienced it so far, is an important lens that shapes how you look at everything around you, the decisions you make, and the actions you take as a leader in business and anywhere else in life. Therefore, the first step towards achieving authentic leadership is looking inwards.
Author Bill George developed research-backed questions to help people find their path to becoming authentic leaders2. George’s questions fall into three main categories:
Shapers (the experiences that have helped shape your life), such as, “ Which people and experiences in your early life had the greatest impact on you?”
Resources (the tools you have in your self-awareness journey), such as, “Who is on your support team?”
Practices (what you can do to put self-awareness into action), such as, “What steps can you take today, tomorrow or over the next year to develop your authentic leaders?”
In an article George co-authored for the Harvard Business Review, he shared the story of Novartis chairman and CEO Daniel Vasella. Vasella’s childhood was marked by illness, both for him and his family members. He remembered receiving good care from doctors and nurses when he suffered from childhood tuberculosis. Based on this transformative experience, he chose a career in medicine. Eventually he followed his passion for business and worked in the pharmaceutical industry to impact change with medicine. Upon becoming CEO of Novartis, Vasella found his purpose, creating not only a global healthcare giant, but a company with a compassionate culture.
Other self-reflection practices can include leadership coaching, using tools like a 360 assessment. An authentic leader will not view external feedback simply as a confirmation of what they’re already doing well. They also won’t be crushed to see what they are doing poorly. Instead, they will see it as an opportunity to grow, improve, and learn.
HR professionals like you can play a significant role in the development of authentic leaders in their organizations. Explore the above questions with employees. What is their personal purpose? What is the impact that they can have in their role? Authentic leaders can shape their role over years, spearhead initiatives, and plan to grow and evolve into the leaders they need to be in the future.
In HR, you can facilitate professional development for aspiring leaders both within and outside of the company. You can help people figure out what they care about in their positions, and expose them to other roles, even out in the community. You can create opportunities for cross-functional mentorship, whether in a formalized program or an informal one where you support the developing leader in finding their mentor.
Authentic leadership empowers everyone to step up and lead and creates strategic thinking and a focus on long-term purpose and achievement beyond day-to-day execution. When you mine your own story, you can reflect on what truly drives you, beyond climbing the corporate ladder. An authentic leader is clear on their purpose and clear on their values. Where they lead, others will follow.
2 George, Bill, et al. “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2007, p. 1.
About the Author: Jenn Lofgren is the Founder of Incito, an executive leadership coaching and development firm in Calgary, Alberta. A Master Certified Coach, Speaker and Facilitator, Jenn has worked with executives and entrepreneurs across Canada and worldwide, helping them grow into inspired, authentic leaders.
Jenn is a dynamic leader in her own right. She is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources, a SHRM Senior Certified Professional, and one of a handful of recipients of the esteemed Master Certified Coach (MCC) designation in Canada and four per cent of coaches worldwide. Jenn has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women (WXN) and an outstanding Alumni by Mount Royal University.