The Leadership Paradox: Authenticity or Results?

Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed an explosion of interest in the field of leadership. While politicians, pastors, business leaders and educators have all made significant contributions historically, there has been a proliferation of perspectives from many who have not been contributors in the past.

Much of the discussion of leadership seems to involve a discussion of the “philosophy of leadership.” The concepts of vision, self-awareness, power, authority, and service occupy center stage in the search to understand leadership.

Another interesting dimension that has been introduced to the forefront of the exploration is the practice of “authenticity,” The suggestion that authenticity is a prerequisite for effective leadership rests on a definition of leadership that invokes the highest possible standard of human conduct. Authenticity conveys that genuineness, validity or legitimacy exists. It suggests an absence of anything that is fake, forged or feigned.

The form of leadership that demands authentic conduct is one that goes beyond simply having people who follow. It goes beyond demonstrating a capacity to produce desired results, championing worthwhile causes, or being allowed to sit at the head of the table amongst peers. Authentic leadership involves living with the risk of being ostracized because the direction, cause or belief system that inspires dedication is not yet understood, even by many who are the respected leaders today.

Clearly, much acclaim is given to people who occupy positions at the head of organizations and produce significant results. In many, if not most, cases such recognition is richly deserved. However, a focus on results is also fraught with tremendous risk of being misguided and misaligned. It is quite commonplace to see organizational leaders in business, church, home, school and government emphasize approaches that produce impressive results while simultaneously compromising values, ethics and cultural traditions.

Systems that recognize and reward performance without also considering the effects on values, ethical standards, cultural artifacts and practices are flawed. Authentic leadership recognizes that the truthful expression of one’s self leads to greater alignment between thought and deeds, and to ease of personal magnetism. It is such alignment that provides authentic leaders with the insight and will to enable and allow the pursuit and preservation of values. They recognize that those elements are indispensable to the process of inspiring, magnetizing and motivating high levels of achievement.

There are many recent examples that point to the need to instill aspiring leaders with the discipline to be authentic. The pressure to conform in order to be rewarded is clearly a primary factor in insincere leadership. It is equally imperative that these leaders be helped to identify leaders who are not. There needs to be a willingness to challenge and reveal leadership that in not authentic. When that occurs there will be much more frequent incidences of behavior that make it safe to be one’s true self.

It is only through being one’s true self that the very best can emerge. It is only leadership that practices authenticity that will respect, allow and encourage authenticity. It is only the most authentic organizations that will ultimately maximize alignment, performance and results. If you intend to create an organization that rallies around effective leadership, practice the following ideas…
• Practice humility
• Develop a “higher purpose”
• Admit your shortcomings
• Identify your uniqueness
• Pursue personal mastery
• Tell the truth, even when it hurts
• Help others do all of the above
• Communicate in a spirit of partnership

If you practice these suggestions, you and your organization will experience considerable improvement in both authenticity and results. You will develop personal magnetism and attract people to participate in causes that improve the condition of organizations and communities. You will be an authentic leader who produces results.