Authentic Leadership

Posted by Ross Nichols on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 Under: career

If you are a leader, do you sometimes feel like an imposter?  If you are a business owner, do you sometimes feel incongruent, that you are not always fully aligned with your business?  If you answered ‘yes’ you are not alone - many leaders experience these doubts so how can we be more authentic as leaders?

There are hundreds of books on leadership but leadership is difficult to define and describe: it’s intangible yet we all know when we are being well led - and we also know when we are being badly led.  Try this short exercise: write down some qualities of a good leader then think of someone well known who has these qualities.  

Chances are you end up with say Bob Geldof and Father Christmas so how far does this approach get us?  

The British Army’s Officer Training School is the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, whose motto is serve to lead.  Is leadership about acting the part?  Is it about character?  Is it about skills?  I recall reading the Leadership Aide-Memoire at Sandhurst as an officer cadet there many years ago and I remember clearly the statement that, ‘Ultimately, leadership is just plain you’.  If leadership is ‘just plain you’, who are you?  Do you know, understand and accept yourself?  The Army’s recent experiences on operations have thrown up some useful insights into leadership in battle and the lessons this has for business.  Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill was commanding an infantry company in Afghanistan in 2009 when he was ambushed from 3 sides and suffered life changing injuries.  He shared his reflections with a group of business owners recently,

“To lead need to make people believe you, to make them feel that they matter, to make them feel valued.  In a world full of process and deadlines we tend to forget about people.  In war this costs lives.  In the workplace, this costs engagement and performance.  To lead you need to be trusted, show compassion and have courage.”  How can we earn trust?  Can we learn how to be compassionate and courageous?  Can we fake them?  I don’t believe we can fake them yet I do believe everyone can learn to be more compassionate and courageous and so become more authentic and earn trust.

Authentic leadership matters because every business journey is a personal journey.  When you are more congruent with yourself and more aligned with your business, you will go further and faster and be more successful.  Try another short exercise: write down quickly a few key words to describe who you are.  

Chances are, you have alighted on aspects of your history, your roles and your values and beliefs but are we more than the sum of these?  The ‘Logical Levels’ model developed by Robert Dilts suggests that we are.  In this model, the visible aspects are: our environment (where we are, who we are with) and our behaviours (what we say and do).  Most corporate coaching works with these visible levels in a transactional way.  The hidden levels are our capabilities and skills, values and beliefs, identity and purpose.  Trying to do anything that conflicts with these doesn’t feel right - we are mis-aligned and will fail.  When we are aligned with our values and beliefs, identity and purpose, we are congruent and we can move mountains.  These are the levels we work on when coaching for transformational change.  

I had a 26 year career as a Royal Engineer in the Army.  When I left in 2008, I handed in my uniform and with it my sense of identity - being a soldier is all I had ever wanted to do so who was I now?  This was the start of a journey of learning, healing and self-discovery which continues.  I’m now comfortable with my values and beliefs, I accept myself as I am and I’m no longer trying to be anyone else.  I have a clear sense of my identify and a sense of direction, a purpose for my life.  Ironically I’m a more authentic leader now than I was in the Army.  My top tips for authentic leadership are:

1.  Get to know and understand yourself

2.  Be congruent with who you are

3.  Align yourself and your business

If you can be more authentic, you will be a better leader and you will go further and faster on your business and leadership journey - good luck!

If you’d like to learn more about authentic leadership, I’ll be speaking on this at a seminar soon - here is the link:

In : career 

Tags: military career coaching