RSS What’s the Value of Authenticity?

“Leadership without perspective and point of view isn’t leadership — and of course it must be your own perspective, your own point of view. You cannot borrow a point of view any more than you can borrow someone else’s eyes. It must be authentic, and if it is, it will be original, because you are original.”
– Warren G. Bennis

One of my teammates recently shared with me an interesting research paper on leadership*, written by two scholars at Hebrew University. (Thank you, Phil!) The subject of this paper is authentic leaders and how they will always view themselves in relation to the personal, experiential stories that make them unique. In the authors’ words, “the construction of a life-story is a major element in the development of authentic leaders.”

This paper is intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, it encouraged me, the reader, to reflect upon my own ‘life-stories” and assess how they formed the basis of my leadership outlook. Second, I pondered how I will adapt to my own future experiences. It’s pretty heavy stuff, and too much to elaborate on in a blog post. For the purposes of this week’s musing, however, I think readers would benefit from a few observations the authors made regarding the characteristics of ‘authentic’ leaders.

Authentic leaders do not fake it. You will never find an authentic leader ‘pretending’ by developing an image or persona of a leader. Performing the role is simply a self-expressive act for an authentic leader. In other words, authentic leaders are just being themselves.

Authentic leaders do not take on a leadership roles for status, honor or personal rewards. They have a value-based cause or mission they want to promote.

Authentic leaders are originals. This doesn’t mean they are all totally different from each other in their personality traits. It just means that authentic leaders hold their values to be true because they have experienced them to be true through their own life-stories.

Authentic leaders act based on their values and conviction. What they say is consistent with what they believe, and what they do is consistent with what they say.

During these times of economic and political strife around the world, wouldn’t it be great if we could identify and rally around authentic leaders? I, for one, am eager to hear from leaders who have taken the time to reflect upon their own life-stories and have assumed positions of leadership because that is who they are. More often, we see an insatiable desire for greater status, honor or awards. I have to admit to a bit of skepticism that this is possible, maybe because I see many who aspire to public leadership roles as having inconsistent stories. Oftentimes, the messages they send are not congruent with previous positions they have articulated. Or, the results they achieved are often touted as being grander or more impactful than they actually were. For me, it’s often just too much to swallow.

I want to share a brief personal story that I think helps underscore my own thinking in this regard. Many years ago, I had a supervisor ask me to perform a function that I knew to be inappropriate at best, and, in my opinion at the time, unethical. When I respectfully declined to perform the activity, I was held accountable for refusing to “obey orders.”  While I had to pay a price initially, this supervisor was ultimately relieved of his leadership responsibilities, likely because he lacked alignment between who he was and what he was tasked to do. This research paper reinforces for me some of my own life-stories and how they have shaped my current perspectives.

I ask you to think about your own life-stories and how they’ve shaped your perspectives on the world around you. I firmly believe that each of us can create the future we see for ourselves, and our journey can be more valuable by leaders who demonstrate true authenticity.

*Shamir, Boas, and Galit Eilam. "What’s Your Story? A Life-stories Approach to Authentic Leadership Development." Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005): 395-417.

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2 Responses to “What’s the Value of Authenticity?”

  1. Mark Eyre says:

    You make some good points about authenticity, especially pertinent in this era of austerity and economic challenge.

  2. Mitch says:

    I appreciate your comment, Mark. Thanks for writing!

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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