Authentic Leadership – a new perspective

Posted in: The Diversity Blog- Nov 07, 2012 Comments Off

By Carol Campayne

Authentic leadershipWhat is the number one requirement for successful leadership in today’s increasingly globalised and diverse marketplace? Where can we find leaders who integrate personal power, relational skills and cultural dexterity to maximise leadership impact and deliver results?

There’s something about the word “authentic” positioned confidently below the name of any brand that connotes the real thing, no flaws, unblemished, uncompromised quality, to be trusted. ……. And yet for me, as with everyone else, I know almost immediately whether something is truly authentic or merely a fake, shadow or imitation, when I see, hear, and experience it. These same principles apply to leadership.

In today’s corporate and organisational context, much has been made of the notion of “authentic leadership”; and the most renowned authorities on leadership would fully agree with Kevin Cashman’s statement – “of all the principles that support long lasting sustainable leadership authenticity may be the most important.”

To further buttress the point, many organisations’ mission statements, brands, competency frameworks and corporate values are also peppered with references to this term.

And yet, in our day to day engagement with authentic leadership there seems to be something missing -something really important that has been either overlooked or underplayed!!

Firstly, authentic leadership, being true to who you are, has different connotations depending on who you are. The usual emphasis of authenticity focuses on purpose, values, philosophy, character, levels of disclosure, and being grounded in the essence of who you are. However, one fundamental aspect of every leader that is often ignored is the leader’s cultural identity! The reality is that every leader’s cultural heritage, roots and background directly influences who they are and how others perceive them.

authentic leadershipIn an organisational context, there has been an undervaluing of the potential contribution that leaders from culturally diverse backgrounds bring to the table. Organisations have not fully embraced the notion of individual authenticity and are not always equipped or prepared to effectively unleash the full authenticity of their global talent. To further compound the issue – and as identified in our research and a recent article in HBR – many leaders from diverse cultural backgrounds often feel that they’re required to leave this fundamental aspect of who they are at the front desk of corporate HQ, in exchange for the acceptable norm. They hide their true selves at work, blend in, assimilate and potentially lose their distinctive leadership edge.

This is all within the very present and real context of a new world where we have witnessed a shifting in the balance of economic power from Europe and north America to China, India, and Asia, and the awakening of the lions of Africa; and where the demographics of the marketplace, workforce and workplace, is increasingly more and more diverse.

This new world demands something very different. It requires confident “Authentic Different Leaders” armed with the ability to lead from the essence of who they are, comfortable in their own skin, able to access cultural and inclusive leadership characteristics that align with the new world; Different Leaders who create value through their ability to harness the inherent strengths that come from their cultural heritage and dexterity.

Many of these Authentic Different Leaders are naturally globally minded, deeply entrenched in at least two cultures, speak more than one language, are culturally competent and uniquely placed to bridge the gap between the new and old economies. The question is what are organisations practically doing over and above business as usual to harness this talent?

Talent acquisition, retention, leadership development and promotion strategies need to be geared towards recognising and nurturing these Authentic Different Leaders! Organisations need to encourage and reward these leaders who bring the strengths of their full authenticity to their leadership. This is what’s missing! Given the global economic and local demographic trends, organisations that reap competitive advantage from leveraging the Authentic Leadership of these Different Leaders will be the ones to win out.

If authenticity is essential to leadership effectiveness and organisational global success then it should be recognised and valued in whatever form it comes – a no-brainer in this new world!

Find out more about the Diversity Practice Authentic Leadership Masterclass or contact us  for information on our full bespoke programme.

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