August 2016

Authentic Leadership — Where do you stand?

by Perry J. Martini, Ph.D.

Ask yourself — am I truly an authentic leader? Reflective list to follow so you can grade yourself.

Authentic leadership is an approach to leadership that emphasizes building the leader's legitimacy through honest relationships with followers which value their input and are built on an ethical foundation. Generally, authentic leaders are positive people with truthful self-concepts who promote openness. By building trust and generating enthusiastic support from their subordinates, authentic leaders are able to improve individual and team performance. This approach has been fully embraced by many leaders and leadership coaches who view authentic leadership as an alternative to leaders who emphasize profit and shares over people and ethics. Authentic leadership is a growing area of study in academic research on leadership which has recently grown from obscurity to a fully mature concept.

The concept of authenticity can trace its philosophical history to ancient Greece. Philosophers stressed authenticity as an important state through an emphasis on being in control of one's own life and the admonition to "Know Thyself." It is no coincidence that our Leadership Model is based on "Know Yourself, Know Your People, and Know Your Stuff." Authenticity begins with our genuine leadership style. It is how others see us as the unvarnished expression of our emotions. How often have been described as "what you see is what you get?"

So, just how authentic are you? Take a look introspectively at the following to see just how authentic a leader you are to others around you:

  1. How well do you maintain self-control when things go wrong?
    • The leader who loses control under adversity forfeits respect and influence.
    • A leader must be calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.
  2. How well can you handle criticism? When have you profited from it?
    • The humble person can learn from petty criticism even malicious criticism that is disguised as "honest and brutal feedback".
  3. Do you readily gain the cooperation of others and earn their confidence and respect?
    • Authentic leadership doesn't have to manipulate or pressure others.
  4. Do you exert discipline without making it a power play?
    • Your corrections or rebukes should be made without being destructive but constructive.
  5. Do your people trust you with difficult and delicate matters?
    • A good example or two should come to mind if people trust you.
  6. Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking it personally?
    • Leaders always face opposition and how they handle it is a true sign of authenticity.
  7. Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going?
    • Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even a temporary loss of confidence?
  8. Are you tactful and can you anticipate how your words will affect a person?
    • Authentic leaders think before speaking.
  9. As a leader, are you reasonably optimistic?
    • Pessimism and leadership do not mix.
    • Leaders are positively visionary — always.
  10. Is your will strong and steady?
    • Authentic leaders do not vacillate or drift with the wind when making decisions.
    • Authentic leaders know the difference between conviction and stubbornness.

Authentic leaders build relationships with their people through trust and confidence. As this type of leader, you should expect people to challenge you rather than annoy you. You will develop your people first rather than just direct them. Encourage always rather than criticize for people are human and not free from making mistakes.

Finally, any type of self-examination becomes useless unless you do something about it. Determine where you stand and pledge to make a commitment to become a more authentic leader.

Perry J. Martini, Ph.D., is a 1971 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and later earned three Masters Degrees in Business, Education, and International Affairs. He holds a Doctoral Degree in Education with Distinction from The George Washington University. Perry was a Naval Aviator and served for twenty-seven years in multiple leadership positions. He is currently the Director of Executive Leadership Programs at Academy Leadership, and an accomplished author and speaker.