The concepts of authentic leadership can be traced back to transformational leadership research from the 1970s, but today is authentic leadership essentially dead? Are any of our top leaders actually practicing this style of leadership?
Authentic Leadership Defined
In Peter Northouse’s leading textbook on leadership, he explains authentic leadership “focuses on whether leadership is genuine and ‘real’.” Bill George gives us a bit more structure beyond the Northouse definition to help recognize truly authentic leaders. George lists these five traits that are common in truly authentic leaders:
- Pursuing their purpose with passion
- Practicing solid values
- Leading with their hearts as well as their heads
- Establishing connected relationships
- Demonstrating self-discipline
While it’s seeming simple to define and understand the basic concept of authentic leadership, finding a public leader practicing this approach today is a challenge. What is it about this style of leadership that makes it more challenging to live out? I wonder if social media could be playing a role. Yes, it’s easy to criticize our public leaders for their shortcomings and lack of authenticity, but do we have similar struggles?
An Endless Masquerade
Social media provides the ultimate mechanism to create an endless masquerade. Even as introverts, we can easily put ourselves out there for the world to see. Or do we? Do we really show the world who we truly are?
I know I can certainly fall into the trap of only letting people see what I want them to see. My focus is on highlighting moments where I have succeeded. I want them to see my beautiful wife and kids in our staged photoshoot. I want them to see the post where my wife thinks I’m a good husband or father. What about the moments in life when I’m not so picture-perfect?
Don’t Impress Me, Relate to Me
In a recent Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, Rick Warren made this statement:
…the way to grow your church is not by impressing people by how cool you are. You don’t help anybody with your successes. You only help them with your failures, your weaknesses, and your problems.
Warren went on to explain that when we only showcase our success, we limit our ability to connect with those around us living in the real world. While his statement was directed at church leaders I think the concept applies to any organization. When we have the courage to be vulnerable and lead with authenticity we have a far greater chance of connecting.
Is Authentic Leadership Dead?
No, authentic leadership isn’t dead. Authentic leadership is an incredibly effective way to genuinely connect with and lead people. However, in today’s instant celebrity-creating society, it does take intentionality. Our social media profiles, our interactions, and our leadership must be rooted in who we truly are behind all the masks.
Want to learn about other leadership styles? Read more here.