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Authentic Leadership

Posted January 2015

In my blog, “No More Workface” and in the article “Journey of Leadership in the Workplace”, I articulated my thoughts and the theories on how leadership has changed in the workplace. Lately I have been reading and reflecting on this and also on the wider picture of the influences on leadership styles and started to wonder – how much does an organisation allow us to be individual leaders? How much or how little does an organisation encourage a certain type of leadership style?

A social contact posted on Facebook that a dance performance by GroupoCorpo was really innovative and very different. My acquaintance use to be a professional dancer, like myself, so I was intrigued and looked them up to watched a clip of the performance she saw, and was underwhelmed to say the least. The dancers were mostly all synchronised, as in most group ballets or modern dance routines…the only “dynamic”, in my opinion, were the costumes. They were black and white unitards and the colours were divided down the middle of each person – making one side of their body in white and the other in black. Now personally I would say this gives an interesting look, but innovative???

This started to get me thinking…if we relate the dancers to an the level of freedom we have as managers and leaders to express our own leadership styles, what does this mean? Are we looking for synchronicity and uniformity in leaders?

Several organisations use performance management tools that aim to define what behaviours are desirable and want to encourage, including leadership. Many organisations feel this is necessary in order to foster the “right” behaviours and discourage the “wrong” behaviours. In principle this all seems fine, but what is right? And how do we define the behaviour “to be innovative” for example? When do we know when a person is behaving innovatively? Surely, in many ways, this is subjective? And if this is the case, how do we then measure it? These are the questions HR practitioners have been asking for a number of years, and the only real answer is to define it within the context of the organisation and its vision. Then one can define innovation based on that context.

But what does this say about our leadership styles and the freedom to express ourselves? Are we all to be defined by the context of the organisation in which we work and hence be uniformed? What happens if someone is different and how does the organisation react to that difference? Is it immediately seen as wrong and needs correcting? Does this mean that in order to be seen as “good leaders” within an organisation, we need to become like actors and only “show” the expressions and leadership of what is required for that particular play/organisation? I would argue “No” and this was discussed at a lunchtime debate the other day, sponsored by HR Magazine. The points the panellists raised was that staff want “human” leaders…others seem to be calling this “authentic” leaders and in the States, the terminology is “holistic” leadership. Whichever term you use, it seems to me to people within organisations want leaders who they feel are “real” – someone they feel comfortable talking to rather than someone who makes them feel like they need to watch their “p’s and q’s” constantly.

One of the most common recruitment questions currently being asked is, “How do you add value?” This elicits an acceptance and desire of wanting individuality from potential future (and hence current) employees. But is this what organisations genuinely want – difference and individuality in

their leaders or do they really want uniformity? The trend seems that the people within the organisations want individuality but organisations are lacking as a whole and may need to make some dramatic changes to their processes and systems to accommodate and attract talent.

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