Authentic Leadership


Leadership is lacking in our country, in all areas of business, government, in the church, and in the home.  One does not need to dig very deep to find failure in leadership in almost every sector of our society. The long term effects of this lack of leadership are devastating.

How can we raise strong authentic leaders in our companies, among the ranks of our management, on our leadership teams, and on our boards?

Here's what I think:

Developing trust with people you are leading takes time and consistent behavior.  We all act and behave in ways that are consistent with our values.  In my life, I can remember times when my behavior was not consistent with my own values, and damage was done within relationships that were and are important to me.

Being authentic has nothing to do with style or charisma.  Leadership is authenticity, not style. Charisma lasts for a short time, but authenticity endures through time. Authenticity derives not from personality, but from alignment with values and purpose.  It’s about being real with who you are at your core.  Find people who believe in what you believe, and they will begin to follow you.

One example of an authentic business leader is former Medtronic CEO Bill George.  Mr. George is worth considering if you have an interest in building a trust culture, and growing your market cap. He should know. During his tenure as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of medical device firm Medtronic, (NYSE MDT) market cap increased from $1 billion to $60 billion. 

He has been named one of the “Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years” by PBS; “Executive of the Year-2001″ by the Academy of Management; and “Director of the Year-2001-02″ by the National Association of Corporate Directors.  Mr. George is professor of Management Practice, and a Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics at Harvard Business School. 

ARTICLE:  Authentic Leadership Lessons from Bill George, Michael Langhout. [8 min read] 

Be disciplined and consistent in applying your integrity and ethical behavior in the workplace and at home.  You will never get the right kind of respect, and especially will not get the right kind of followers, if you are unethical in your business or personal life.

Make sure your core values, both personal, and those co-developed by your leadership team, are alive and always consistent with your actions and activities – and those of the company you lead.  Otherwise, your words will be void of meaning and just placards on the wall.  

This aspect of being a leader is often ignored but is crucially important to any company.  It is the 'glue' that holds the enterprise together and must be consistently and constantly communicated to all members of the organization.

VIDEO:  Authentic Leadership; Bill George at Knowledge at Wharton.  [21:52 min] 

  • Be transparent with your 'crucibles', those events in your life that did not give you the result you were expecting.  It is OK to have 'failures' in your career or in life.  Failure is a useful teacher so long as we have the humility to learn from our mistakes.  

  • Until you have experienced a few setbacks in your life, you are not prepared to lead because you don't have the wisdom that failure or rejection bring.  Building trust and respect as a leader requires you to embrace those dark times, and talk openly about them. 

  • Find someone trustworthy who you respect and who has great life experience. Connect with that person. Ask them to mentor you.  We all need someone to guide and encourage us in our work and lives.

BOOK:  'Authentic Leadership', Bill George.

In his book, George identifies 9 key points which comprise a holistic template for authentic leadership. Here are some of my favorites: 

  • Be Authentic.  This sounds self-evident, but often we try to be someone we are not.  Authenticity is a reflection of how truthful and real we are in our relationships, and in understanding ourselves. Being authentic means honesty, vulnerability, and being real when sharing who you are, or how you would like others to be when in a relationship with you.

  • Identify and Leverage your Crucibles.  Difficult times shape us into who we are.  They are the ‘marrow of life’ and necessary to attain a meaningful level of experience and leadership ability.  

  • Learn to Follow your Passion.   Do you know your passion?  How do you want to make a difference in the world? What will you do to make a difference? You need to be true to what you believe.

Excerpt from George:  "The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born - that there is a generic factor to leadership.  This myth asserts that people either have certain charismatic qualities or not.  That is nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true.  Leaders are made rather than born."  

Questions to consider:

  • What is your definition of leadership? 

  • Do you serve your people, removing roadblocks, sharing your values and vision?  

  • Do you have the respect of your people?  

  • Look over your shoulder and see if anyone is following!

And finally, I will leave you with a quote: 

“Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
—John D. Rockefeller