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Leadership – The Real Thing

by Stuart Crainer

Leadership is a show. There is no denying the theatrical element necessary to succeed as a leader. “The example I use with the executives that I work with is a Broadway or a West End play. People in a show do not say, oh my foot hurts, I don’t feel too good today, I’m in a bad mood. Why? Because it is show time. I tell the executives that the kid on the stage is making two percent of what you’re making. If they can go out there, night after night after night, and be a professional, then so can you,” says the executive coach Marshall Goldsmith,

How a leader behaves makes a difference. If they are miserable, their mood is infectious. A casual off-hand remark can spread through the organization like wildfire. Every moment. Every move. Every word and every communication has an audience and has an impact on that audience.

At the same time, the loudest leadership chorus of recent years has championed the case of the authentic leader. Torchbearers for the idea include former CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, and business school academics such as Rob Goffee and Liz Mellon.

With authentic leadership, the best leaders make the most of the qualities they already possess. They trade on their strengths, and understand their weaknesses. To be useful these qualities must be real, perceived by others and significant. Authentic leadership is definitely not about adopting the styles or traits of other successful leaders.

“We realize that the missing ingredients in corporations are ethical leaders committed to building authentic organizations for the long- term,” said Bill George. “We need authentic leaders, people of the highest integrity, committed to building enduring organizations. We need leaders who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values. We need leaders with the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.”

George identified a number of attributes that he associated with what he called authentic leaders, in particular the values shaped by experience, which provide a moral compass, and complete integrity creating trust, as well as supplying a sense of purpose for followers/employees. According to George, authentic leaders: understand their purpose, and have the passion for that purpose that comes from being highly motivated by their work; have solid values, of which integrity should be one, and practise those values testing themselves in different situations; leaders should be able to lead with their heart, treating followers with compassion, and firing up employees to achieve great things; leaders must forge common purpose and build a sense of connectedness so that they develop enduring relationships with, and inspire loyalty and trust from their employees; authentic leadership requires a high degree of self-discipline, this means dealing with stress effectively and maintaining well-being.

All of this sits uncomfortably with the inauthentic nature of a great deal of leadership behaviour. Leaders have to appear unworried even if they know that disaster is looming because if their smile breaks disaster will arrive all the quicker.

For leaders this is one of the great dilemmas: how can they square manifestly inauthentic behaviour with the need to be themselves?

Stuart Crainer is co-founder of the Thinkers50. His book credits include The Management Century and a biography of the management guru Tom Peters. He is a visiting professor at Warwick Business School.

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