Bill George (2003), in True North, one of the seminal texts on leadership and authenticity, defines the concept of authentic leadership as, in effect, being true to yourself. This means understanding and being true to your values, finding your own style and ensuring that there is appropriate fit between your values and the organisation you represent. He refers to 5 dimensions:
1. Understanding and pursuing your purpose with passion
2. Practicing solid values
3. Leading with your heart
4. Establishing connected relationships
5. Demonstrating self-discipline.
Being your own person is absolutely key, it allows the leader to be objective and independent. Understanding what the real you is can be an altogether trickier undertaking. Clarifying the true culture and values of your organisation is a great deal more complex than consulting the marketing literature; but ensuring that the real you fits with the brand of your organisation is the trickiest proposition of all.
Authentic leadership is the central challenge facing anyone in a leadership role, who is concerned with brand management and believes that employee engagement is the key to effective brand management. It is the challenge that now faces true ceos, or as Caroline Hempstead, AstraZeneca’s group corporate communications lead puts it in Brand Engagement:
“The best role models and most effective communicators I’ve known are all:
- astute business leaders who are positive about engagement, not just pushing information
- good at simplifying and staying on message, linking information to develop a consistent story, adapted for audiences
- comfortable in their own skin, so their communication is authentic and consistent with other aspects of their leadership style
- as good at listening as they are at communicating
- being themselves and, therefore, they’re inspirational but also predictable which adds to the credibility of the message
The acid test always is “would I follow this person into battle”? That’s a characteristic which owes a lot to integrity and authenticity rather than being a slick communicator.