Sunday, October 26, 2008

Authenticity

The entries in this blog over the past year hopefully have made it clear that there is more to leadership than sitting down in an office with your name on the door and giving orders. We have all worked with people who approached leadership from this perspective, but I doubt that many of us would consider these people good role models, or the kind of leaders we would want at the helm when crossing the unknown sea.

There are also leaders who inspire in us a willingness to tackle the most difficult problems, or to go where no one has gone before. And, they are able to do this without having to raise their voice or demand our compliance.

What is the difference between these two types of leaders? Why are we bored and demotivated by one, and inspired to reach for the stars by the other?

There are probably many reasons, but I want to suggest one answer that deserves your consideration.

When we believe that we have a leader who truly cares for us and our success, who believes in our abilities, who listens and considers our suggestions, who supports us in success and failure, and who communicates his or her thoughts and feelings; in short, when we have a leader who is authentic in every way, we feel valued, and are willing to invest ourselves in the success of that leader and our organization.

In August of 2001, Peter Koestenbaum described Authenticity in the following way:

Authenticity includes:
  1. Underscoring the centrality of both caring and integrity in helping people to feel valued and treated fairly. This is ethics.

  2. Supporting people in mastering the anxiety of grave uncertainty, the insecurity of frequent failures, and equip them to rely on their inner resources to maintain their dignity as well as their obligations to the future of the whole organization. This is courage.

  3. Strengthening people to survive amidst the chilling environment of a harsh economy, bitter competition, political infighting, and unforgiving stock exchanges. This is reality.

  4. Lighting up the intellect to fashion new, creative and imaginative solutions to intractable problems. This is Vision.
(Peter Koestenbaum - August 6, 2001)
Peter Block, an organizational development consultant who has spent many years working with leaders, describes authenticity in the following way:

Deeply understanding the other person's point of view gives feeling of authenticity. The first order of business is to understand the situation rather than correct the other person's perception. (The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion, p. 168-169)

Authentic behavior... means you put into words what you are experiencing... as you work. (Flawless Consulting, second edition, p.37)

Authentic leaders listen, support others, express their feelings and thoughts, make visible what is going on inside their heads,

Also, authentic leaders help others move from dependency (the theory that the leader or manager is totally responsible) to an understanding that each person is responsible for exercising their own free will and choice.

Paternalistic behavior on the part of a leader removes power, choice, and freedom from the employee. Authentic behavior leads to empowerment, and an understanding that the individual must exercise his or her free will to affect the work environment.

It must be noted that authentic behavior on the part of a leader can create anxiety in those who follow. Anxiety should not be seen as a negative emotion. In fact, growth cannot happen without anxiety. Every time you enter a new situation you experience some level of anxiety. The important thing is how you deal with the anxiety. Do you try to remove yourself from the situation that is causing the anxiety, or do you embrace the anxiety and allow it to give you the energy and courage to face the new situation? Removing yourself assures that the anxiety will go away. But, facing the anxiety and leaning into your discomfort assures that you will grow and develop new skills and abilities.

This entry is a work in progress. For me, authenticity remains one of those things that we all know when we see it, but is hard to describe in words. Your suggestions and thoughts on how to improve this description of authenticity would be appreciated.