Authentic Leadership: A Different Approach

By Christian Schütte
May 17, 2020
Each year brings with it a slew of corporate buzzwords and new approaches to management, the majority of which don’t stick around for long, and soon disappear into the ether. The concept of ‘authentic leadership’, however, feels a little different in this respect.

A New Perspective on Authentic Leadership.

Let’s instead approach the entire concept of authentic leadership from a wholly different perspective. The context comes back to a common trap that both L&D and HR functions regularly fall into: maintaining the belief that success - and ongoing success - consistently depends upon mastering complicated and new management skill sets and models. This is especially during the case during periods of complexity and change within a business, when we automatically assume we don’t already know enough, or suspect that somehow, we aren’t doing things in the correct way.

Make no mistake, there are always, always new models and methods to learn, and each usually bears a kernel of truth. However, changes in leadership shouldn’t always necessarily arise from stress, exhaustion, or scrabbling around for new approaches, as this has a tendency to block clear thinking.  

When leadership systems have faith in their leaders, HR is best suited to facilitating their senior talent in finding their own way when it comes to leading employees naturally, and based upon their unique, natural, and distinctive style of leadership. This boils down to a notion of empowerment; having trust in people to have what it takes to lead… and believing that without this, they wouldn’t have risen to such a role in the first place.

The good news? It’s perfectly possible to cultivate a business culture which works with this approach to leadership, and especially when a company is faced with tough challenges. There exists a simple, powerful, and enduringly effective process to identifying the best and most authentic way to meet workplace challenges, and it’s arguably based more on authenticity than any buzzy concept of ‘authentic leadership’ as outlined above.

Three Steps to Real Authentic Leadership.

Step One: As with so many processes for utilizing leadership to solve workplace problems, the first step involves identifying any blocks on the path to carrying out one’s key roles. Limiting beliefs, or hurdles on the path towards leadership success, must be addressed consciously before any further steps are taken. Typical examples of limiting beliefs would be ‘My team has lost faith in my leadership abilities’, or ‘I’ve got too much on my plate to carry out my role properly’.

Step Two: Reconnect with the sense of authenticity in your leadership capacities. Recall powerful past experiences of genuine achievements, wherein the necessary capacities and skills were clearly shown. These are things which are so easily lost touch with in times of stress and overwork, and just a couple of minutes of conscious reflection and note-taking can make them accessible once more.

Step Three: Get pragmatic. Draw out the next steps, and list all the tasks required to meet leadership challenges or meeting deliverable deadlines. This might involve creating new project teams, delegating tasks appropriately, or holding actionable meetings. Use the experiences recalled in step two to work out the best methods and approaches for moving forward, and identify the resources and conditions which were in place prior to previous successes, and how they can be recreated in the here and now. Once this is clear, the following steps will also become clearer… and you’ll be able to move forward in an honest, logical, and overall authentic fashion.

Utilizing Natural Strengths and Capacities for Success.

Time and again, this approach - which is all about recognizing weakness in order to channel strength, without the necessity for personal exposure - has proven highly effective in getting senior managers and leaders to a place of renewed energy and revitalized self belief. It’s a way of lending clear, practicable next steps, which fully address the issue at hand, and rely on a sense of truth and authenticity in trusting leaders to lead, based on their own unique skills and experience.

The real beauty of this approach is that it allows leaders to simply be themselves in the context of their leadership, rather than within the context of human fragility. By basing authentic leadership on a leader’s natural strengths and capacities, we come down to an essence of what authenticity should really be all about within the workplace. When we behave in such a way, we feel good about ourselves and our achievements… and therein lies the path to our best work, future successes, and a healthier company culture.

The concept of ‘authentic leadership’, however, feels a little different in this respect.

A relatively new concept, authentic leadership describes a set of values regarding leaders and management ‘being themselves’ in the workplace - that is, exposing usually unseen aspects of their personalities, their flaws, their weaknesses, and areas they need to improve upon, instead of the more commonplace daily act of putting on a professional front. It’s not difficult to recognize the core attitudes and beliefs being espoused here; transparency, vulnerability, and compatibility with co-workers and employees are all aspects of leadership which hold plenty of water, and stand up to scrutiny as effective management approaches. However, it is also clear that there is no shortage of risk involved in leaders stepping too far from their primary (and essential) role of modeling top-notch levels of self-management, self-discipline, and capacity for professionalism across all aspects of working life. To put things bluntly, organizations and businesses don’t always gain much benefit from knowing everything about their boss’s shortcomings and inner turmoil.