‘Authentic leadership’ is a relatively new concept in leadership development. It’s usually meant to emphasise the value of leaders ‘being themselves’ at work, instead of putting on a front and hiding their weaknesses.
Reconnecting with your natural strengths is the key to practising authentic leadership
This ideal may be a noble one, but it tends to be highly abstract and aspirational, without addressing how to put it into practice. Also, while the core attitudes it espouses – vulnerability and transparency – do hold some water, I want to put the cat among the pigeons here.
In my experience there are considerable risks when leaders step too far away from their essential role of modelling to others a high level of self-management and capacity. Putting it more bluntly, the organisation or its people don’t always benefit from knowing everything about the boss’s inner demons and shortcomings!
And so, I use the term ‘authentic leadership’ in a different way. For me, the context here is the common trap that leaders can fall into, particularly during times of complexity or challenge: thinking that they must master complicated leadership models or skillsets.
Of course, there are always useful new tricks to learn. But often striving hard to reach a ‘corporate’ ideal can lead to stress and exhaustion, or block clear thinking, and so is counter-productive.
It’s far better to lead others naturally, based on your own distinctive leadership style – trusting you’ve got what it takes, otherwise you wouldn’t have got where you are in the first place.
I’ve seen this many times in my work with leaders and teams: things run more smoothly when people play to their natural strengths and capacities, rather than focussing too heavily on areas for improvement.
The good news is that it’s possible to cultivate this approach to leadership – particularly when faced with a tough challenge – through a simple series of steps:
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