The traditional stereotype of leadership is one of bold heroism. Leaders are individuals who stand out through their unique vision and charisma, lead the charge, and give rousing motivational speeches. There is certainly a place for that style of leadership in certain situations, but leaders are increasingly called upon to flex their style through constant organizational change and challenges.
Leadership philosophy today emphasizes skills and values such as emotional intelligence, understanding communication styles, adaptability to change, and sharing power and influence. Leaders are expected to master these soft skill competencies while also being technically/professionally excellent. I like to call that ultimate combination of technical and soft skills authentic leadership, meaning it’s the real deal. It’s a tall order for anyone to aspire to, but we have all known authentic leaders who have mastered (or are striving to master) that balance between the business-side and people-side of organizational life. I believe we find these authentic leaders at all levels of an organization, not only the executive suite. These leaders share a common commitment to business excellence and a service-orientation to people and mission while constantly developing and transparently demonstrating their unique strengths and weaknesses – in so doing, we trust them.
In Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition*, the authors point out that “trust is an elusive quality, but in its absence almost nothing is possible. From a position of trust, a leader can more effectively guide others through change and transition.” How then do leaders establish trust? The key is “being authentic and straightforward amid the emotional sway of change”. For all leaders, it is critical to be open and honest about the state of the organization and corresponding change and transition. Being authentic, straightforward, open and honest in organizational life is a challenge to do well. It requires leaders to flex all of their soft and technical skills and to risk experimenting with different communication styles – “that’s because in the face of change and turmoil, people look for leaders who are simultaneously strong and vulnerable, heroic and open, demanding and compassionate.”
While there are a whole range of tools to help leaders hone their skills, I don’t believe there is one program, path, or standard approach to becoming an authentic leader. That’s why one-on-one leadership coaching is so powerful and specific to your own development goals. No matter what your job title is or where you fit on the org chart, your business, nonprofit, or company needs your authentic leadership.