Authenticity in leadership is a hot topic these days. In fact, we read about it so often and hear it expressed in other media so much that I fear it is in danger of becoming one of those dreaded buzzwords.
To me though, authentic is something we strive to be. There is no piece of software or manual that gives instructions on how to become an authentic leader. It’s a personal thing. And, somewhere along the way, we have to figure out how we turn the being of it into the doing.
The question is, in a world full of complexity, politics, big ideas and yes, even skullduggery, what can we do to ensure that we keep it real?
Here are some thoughts on that:
Stay grounded by making the work more important than ourselves
The ego, while an important and oft-maligned part of the human psyche, has a propensity to grow to outlandish proportions with only the slightest encouragement if not tempered by a measure of humility. Staying grounded is about remembering our core purpose; focusing on the work and on the people who must carry it out. Ego trips can be personally satisfying but they are extravagances that most leaders can no longer afford.
Represent our values honestly. Practice them. Reinforce them
Most organisations have stated values. Values outline what is important. They form part of the organisational culture. Authenticity demands that those values are not only talked about but also enacted – every day. However, I think we can agree that talking about values is a great deal easier than living them.
For example, recently IBM, AT&T and Exxon Mobil all sponsored the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The Augusta National Golf Club is a particularly prestigious one. It is also a place where some pretty powerful CEOs conduct business so membership is not just about golf. At this club, too, women are prohibited from membership.
This presented something of a dilemma in the size and shape of Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM. At Augusta National it is tradition to present the CEO of a Masters tournament sponsor with membership to the club. In Ms Rometty’s case, no such offering was made. From the perspective of the golf club, this conformed to its organisational values, whether we agree with them or not. But their decision to exclude the CEO of IBM would seem to fly in the face of the diversity that the sponsoring companies purport to value in their respective organisations.
This might have been a prime opportunity to act in alignment with a value they each say they espouse. And yet, they said nothing and did nothing. To me, that puts the authenticity of their value of diversity into question. Simply put, if we choose to say one thing and do another, we are going to come up short in the keeping it real department.
Be mindful of the assumptions we make
We all make assumptions. Sometimes we make decisions based on them with no adverse consequences. Sometimes we assume certain things about people and we are right. However, there are other times when our assumptions can be totally out to lunch. When that happens and we take action based on what we think we know, that’s when reality can easily get away from us. Keeping it real means that we stop from time to time and question the assumptions we are working from.
Make clarity and accuracy in communication a priority
Part of keeping it real is ensuring that the information we share with one another is useful and accurate. Lots of things get in the way of that. For instance, the flow of information can easily get snagged on grapevines where it becomes distorted and no longer reliable. Some people, too, believe that information is a commodity reserved for only a certain few. While this may be true of some things, in the main, shared knowledge helps people do their jobs better, fuels new ideas and ensures that people are acting on something real. Here’s an example of how failing to provide clear and accurate information can actually take you way off course.
So, how about you? How do you keep it real?