Discovering Your Authentic Leadership

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HBR On Leadership CoverDiscovering Your Authentic Leadership
(included in On Leadership)
By Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer

Although there are many singers contributing to the leadership chorus, you must develop your own tried and true voice. Indeed, there is no clear profile of a leader; however, nearly all trusted and respected leaders are perceived as authentic.

Authentic leaders have a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. This point connects to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence pillars as well as Doug Conant’s Leadership in Touchpoints.

You must work to integrate your life experiences with your espoused values so that they have fidelity. Your true values have to be tested. The testing gives you opportunities to observe the gaps between what you believe and the choices you make. Further, without confidence in your authentic self, you will be relentlessly tempted to emulate others; therefore, the testing process is useful because it helps you to understand and explain why you fail and thrive.

Authentic leaders must have a willingness to be vulnerable. Intellectually, many people cannot get behind the idea that being transparent and coming across in any manner besides fully assured and expert-like; therefore, authentic leaders should anticipate criticism. To this end, authentic leaders also recognize the value of their support team. This point connects to A Formula for Happiness by Arthur C. Brooks of The American Enterprise Institute and to Positive Intelligence by Shawn Achor. You must build relationships, of varying types, in order to have the confidence and courage to be authentic.

Discussion Questions:
1a) Both leading practitioners and scholars suggest that self-awareness is central to developing great leadership; however, many leaders and professionals focus more time on establishing themselves (acquiring money, power, status, etc.) than on self-exploration. Can you do both simultaneously? How?

1b) Is denial more of an intentional unwillingness to see oneself (perhaps because they’d be compelled to reconcile the inconsistencies or accept responsibility for some of their problems) or an inability to see oneself?

2) What is the main ingredient and/or characteristic that you believe is missing in leaders in your organization? Prominent figures outside your organization?

3) What parts of your story set you up and apart for leadership? How do you manage the parts of your story that include pain, failure or some other unpleasant emotion or shame-inducing characteristic?

4) What are the benefits of investigating your personal story? How do you pull meaning out of it? Does it limit you to an audience of people with stories like yours? How do you explore your personal story?

5) How does your story serve others?

6) Can you be a leader and be risk-averse relative to practicing and acting on your values and principles? How does this work when you don’t have the authority the set the agenda? What happens when you’re asked or required work in a manner counter to your values?

7) How do you translate your life experiences into empowering lessons rather than sources of victimization?

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