I remember attending a conference in the UK on Leadership and being very impressed by their keynote speaker. He spoke about all the values that I aspire to in my own life; respect, courage, valuing difference, being vulnerable and hard working. An exceptionally powerful speaker, who had the audience in the palm of his hand for the full session, he received a standing ovation from the 500 people in the audience.
I was staying in the hotel that night and the following morning, when I went down for breakfast, who was at the table but the keynote speaker reading the newspaper. I decided that I would go over to him and complement him on his talk after he had finished his breakfast. A young waitress tending his table brought him some toast. The toast had only been put on the table when he let out a roar and said “I didn’t ask for white toast, I asked for brown, it can’t be that hard to get it right”. The young girl apologised and quickly scurried to the kitchen to rectify her mistake. She returned within a few minutes with hot brown toast only to be told that his coffee was now cold and that he wanted a fresh pot. For me, it was like watching the curtain blow back to reveal the true Wizard of Oz – my illusion was shattered.
Being an authentic leader is the new ‘buzz’ word around organisations these days. I have observed some important business leaders proclaim themselves as true authentic leaders. I no longer tend to be impressed by such titles and subjective expressions of self-worth but rather wait and observe their behaviour before passing judgement.
For me, authentic leadership is not a self-proclaimed title that one can bestow upon oneself. It is that “secret sauce” that makes you stand out from the pack. It is like precious gold which is rare to find but once you do you will easily recognise it.
In a recent article, Bill George discussed ‘The Truth About Authentic Leaders’. Here are some of his recommended steps people should undertake to develop a deeper understanding of themselves in order to become authentic leaders:
Bill George’s advice really resonates with me and my personal experience of dealing with some leaders. If I am to inspire people, I need to learn to work on myself first and focus on being authentic in the way Bill George describes. Long ago, I stopped being wowed by ‘organisations values’ as many are meaningless unless we understand the behaviours that are behind them. Don’t tell me that you put your employees first but rather let me witness it for myself in the actions and interactions that I see when I visit your office or talk to your teams.
As it used to say on my report card from school ‘Maurice is doing well, but could do better’, I guess the same could be said about my journey to become more authentic … I feel I am doing well but I know I can do better!
Let us Unleash our authentic selves (as described by Bill George) into our organisation and release some of that secret sauce!