Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Authenticity vs Authentic Leadership

I've restarted this blog on the 14th January 2010, so well done if you've noticed that the orgininal date and my blog content don't quite tally up!

It seems fitting, at the start of a new year, to review the year that has just left us and to look forward to the year ahead. I noticed, during 2009, a significant increase in the use of the words 'authentic' and 'authenticity'; from articles on holiday destinations that have remained unchanged by tourism and as such, have remained 'true to themselves', to making 'authentic' chocolate cakes like our domestic godess, Nigella Lawson!

I am often asked whether 'authenticity' and 'authentic leadership' are the same; whether being true to yourself and your own principles is enough to make someone a good, or even a great, Leader.

The simple answer is that no, being authentic on its own is nowhere near enough! There is an enormous divide between the two states of being. They may sound similar, but in reality, a huge chasm divides them. Before I explore with you what each means for us in today's complex world, let me explain briefly where the two ideas came from.

In terms of written historical records, both can be traced back at least to the ancient Greeks; although the underlying principles of both are evident in earlier Confucian and Buddist philosophies. The similarities between Eastern and Western philosophical ideals over millennia regarding an individual's moral and ethical character whilst also remaining true to themselves suggests that socially and psychologically, the two concepts of authenticity and authentic leadership transcend cultural, temporal and geographical boundaries.

So what are they then, these two ideas that sound so similar but are actually worlds apart in terms of their implications for people's behaviour? Historically, being 'authentic' means more than just being true to yourself in terms of living by a set of beliefs, values and standards that represent your own moral compass (or as Bill George puts it, your 'true North'). Being authentic means more than Shakespeare's, "To thine own self be true".

Shakespeare omitted a word! What he really meant to say was, "To thine own TRUE self be true".You cannot possibly be true to your own TRUE self if you lack the understanding to really comprehend and acknowledge who your true self really is. Many of us spend a lifetime trying to understand who we are at our core and what that means for us as partners, parents, colleagues and neighbours. Before you can BE authentic therefore, you must be self aware enough to really know what's important to you, both personally and professionally in all spheres of your life. And you must actively reflect on how life's daily challenges influence you; whether they serve to reinforce your sense of self, or whether they shake you to your core.

Authentic Leadership incorporates this dimension of personal authenticity, and adds to it the concept of personal integrity; our morals and ethics. Ethical decision making is at the very heart of the principles of Authentic Leadership. The Authentic Leader does what is right and moral and just for society and the wider community, whilst STILL displaying a consistency with their moral values that allows them to remain true to their own true sense of self.

Sometimes it isn't a very easy path to tread. My argument therefore, is that although the narcisists and psychopaths who are so evident in the history of warfare and dictatorships may well have been authentic in that they were being true to their own true (violent) natures, in no way could they ever be considered Authentic Leaders.

Truly Authentic Leaders are psychologically self-aware and philosophically sound; ethical and moral people who are empathetic and compassionate to others. They not only know themselves very well, they encourage all of those around them to achieve their full potential.

The desire and search for such leaders pre-dates one of the first recorded examples of such a man; the Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who, in his books of Meditations to himself, reflected on his leadership role as General of the Roman Legions and Master of the Roman Empire.

I hope that I have been able to explain the difference between the two terms of Authenticity and Authentic Leadership. The principles of Authentic Leadership underpin the 3 Peaks Leadership Development Programme (an exciting leadership development experience of which I am honoured to be Programme Director).

To learn more about Authentic Leadership and what that might mean for you, have a look at the 3 Peaks Leadership Development Programme at http://www.cognitivefitness.co.uk or visit the Resources page on the same site.

Happy New Year to you.

My best wishes as always,