The Three Foundations of Great Leadership, A Great OrganiSation & A Great Life
Great Leadership begins and ends with Authenticity, Integrity and Being Non-Self-Centred in Life.
Steven Philip Warner | Issue Date - 01/08/2011
Examples of our inauthenticities:
We all want to be admired, and almost none of us is willing to confront just how much we want to be admired, and how readily we will fudge on being straightforward and completely honest in a situation where we perceive doing so threatens us with a loss of admiration.
We also all want to be seen by our colleagues as being loyal, protesting that loyalty is a virtue even in situations where the truth is that we are acting “loyal” solely to avoid the loss of admiration. And, in such situations, how ready we are to sacrifice integrity to maintain the pretense of being loyal, only because we fear losing the admiration of our colleagues.
Also, most of us have a pathetic need for looking good, and almost none of us is willing to confront just how much we care about looking good – even to the extent of the silliness of pretending to have followed and understood something when we haven’t. We are all guilty of being small in these ways, including me – it comes with being human.
Great leaders are noteworthy in having come to grips with these foibles of being human – not eliminating them, but being the master of these weaknesses when they are leading. If you watch carefully in life, you will have the opportunity to catch yourself being small in these ways. While you won’t like seeing this, by distinguishing these weaknesses in yourself, you will give yourself a powerful opportunity to master these weaknesses.
One cannot pretend to be authentic. That, by definition, is inauthentic. The actionable pathway to authenticity is to be authentic about your inauthenticities. Being authentic is being willing to discover, confront, and tell the truth about your inauthenticities – when and where you are not being genuine, real, or authentic. Specifically, where in your life are you not being or acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and where are you not being or acting consistent with who you hold yourself to be for yourself.
If you cannot find the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities, you can forget about being at peace with yourself, and you can forget about being a great leader. And, similarly, an organisation that cannot be authentic about it’s inauthenticities will experience great conflicts, costs, and loss of reputation.
The attempt to be authentic on top of our inauthenticities is like putting cake frosting on cow dung, thinking that that will make the cow dung go down well. Quoting Bill George, former Medtronics CEO and now Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership: “After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity.” (George, Bill, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2003, p. 11)
To be a leader you must be big enough to be authentic about your inauthenticities. This kind of bigness is a sign of power, and is so interpreted by others.
The Actionable Pathway to Authenticity
To be authentic about your inauthenticities, you must find in yourself that “self” that leaves you free to be authentic about your inauthenticities.
That “self”, the one that gives you the freedom to be authentic about your inauthenticities, is who you authentically are. And you will know when this process is complete when you are free to be publicly authentic about your inauthenticities, and have experienced the freedom, courage, and peace of mind that comes from doing so. And this is especially so when you are authentic with those around you for whom those inauthenticities matter (and who are likely to be aware of them in any case).
In conclusion, authenticity is one of the conditions for great leadership, a great organisation, and a great personal life.
3 – Being Committed To Something Bigger than Oneself
What I mean by “being committed to something bigger than oneself” is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that those actions are in the service of realising something beyond one’s personal concerns for oneself – beyond a direct personal payoff.
As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves – an important aspect of great leadership.
The Source of Passion
Without the passion that comes from being committed to something bigger than yourself, you are unlikely to persevere in the valley of tears that is an inevitable experience in the lives of all human beings and certainly in the lives of all great leaders: Times when nothing goes right, there is no way, no help is available, nothing there except what you can do to find something in yourself – the strength to persevere in the face of impossible, insurmountable hurdles and barriers.
When you are committed to something bigger than yourself and you reach down inside you will find the strength to continue (joy in the labor of). And finally, being committed to something bigger than yourself leaves you with the passion required to empower the brain’s executive function to “not eat the marshmallow”.