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Authentic Leadership in Action

Updated: Apr 3



One of the exercises I included in my leadership program is for participants to identify authentic leadership that they encountered that left an impression on them and why they drew that conclusion.


It was eye-opening to hear some of the responses. Yet nothing prepared me for one participant identifying me as that leader for her. It was humbling and made me reflect on which of my past or current leaders would fall into that category.


There are many definitions of the word leadership. So for the sake of this article, I will use Susan Ward's description.

She writes, "Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal."

Authentic leaders gain legitimacy from building honest relationships with their followers based on a moral and ethical foundation.


During my twenty-year corporate career, I worked for sixteen managers, and of this number, I consider only two of them to have authentic leadership qualities. The other fourteen were, at best, junior managers since they demonstrated little or no understanding of organizational behavioural concepts.


By that, I mean the majority (9) possessed little or no leadership skills. Others (2) focused too much on discipline and had no idea how to motivate or empower their employees. This resulted in a very frustrated, dissatisfied staff and high employee turnover.


The other three were decent managers but did not cross the line into genuine leadership.


My lengthy career benefited from the tutelage of the two managers that I will highlight in this article. Both shared similar traits with a few unique differences, as outlined in the table below.


Aleen (Name changed for privacy)

Lionel (name changed for privacy)

  1. Possessed legitimate power

  1. Possessed legitimate power

2. Possessed expert power

2. Possessed expert power

3. Practiced clean politics

3. Practiced clean politics

4. Had visibility within the company

4. Had visibility within the company

5. Used social intelligence

5. Used analytical reasoning

6. Democratic/Autocratic leadership style

6. Laissez-faire leadership style

7. Supportive leadership

7. Supportive leadership

8. Participative leadership

8. Participative leadership

9. Achievement oriented

9. Not focused on results

10. Took time to understand my personality

10. Took time to understand my personality

11 Assigned tasks aligned to my skillsets AND challenged me with new things

11 Provided coaching and mentorship when asked



These two individuals stood out for me, perhaps because they understood me as an employee and sought to maximize my potential in their own way.


Both managers were very effective because they shared mutual respect and trust with their staff. Not only did they have the respect of their team, but their peers and the C-suite also respected them because of their visibility within their respective companies.

They both received credit for making decisions that positively affected the organization.


For example, Aleen was instrumental in improving business processes, which resulted in considerable cost savings for the company, and Lionel ensured that the company invested in cutting-edge technology trends. Due to this, their credibility grew, and peers and aides alike regularly sought their advice and input into daily activities. They were usually involved in major strategic decisions for their respective organizations.


Lionel

He was a quiet, somewhat introverted gentleman who was a bit of a technocrat and, therefore, very knowledgeable in his field. Although he was the group manager, he remained one of the boys, which increased the comfort level that his team had with him.


When he assigned tasks to his team, his only involvement was at the beginning to explain what was required to complete the task successfully. He was always available if we had questions but rarely followed up on assigned tasks. His entire team usually accomplishes their tasks/objectives promptly. The bottom line is that we loved him. We all wanted to please him. None of us wanted to tarnish his reputation in the organization.


He took a personal and professional interest in his team's well-being, and I suspect this earned him respect from them. Decisions that affected his team were usually discussed in a team meeting, and the verdict was made after careful analysis of how it would impact each team member. Lionel provided the guidance and mentorship that I needed going into my first tech job out of college.



Aleen

She was a gregarious personality and was strict when it came to accomplishing our tasks. After assigning tasks to her team, she required regular progress reports and was famous for sitting down individually with staff to help them complete the tasks. Her team was usually involved in decision-making, but when this was not possible, she would make decisions and inform us.


Many people liked her because of her personality and her many years of professional experience. She commanded great respect from subordinates, peers, and senior leadership due to her diverse knowledge of the business, which also afforded her much visibility.


If any of her associates were ill, she was the type to drive them to the hospital, ensure they got proper treatment, and, if needed, drive them home. I learned a lot from her personally and professionally.


Lao Tse's definition of leadership describes them perfectly.


"The superior leader gets things done with very little motion. He imparts instruction not through many words but through a few deeds. He keeps informed about everything but hardly interferes at all. He is a catalyst, and though things would not get done well if he weren't there, when they succeed, he takes no credit. And because he takes no credit, credit never leaves him." (Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching)

Another person who closely matches this definition is the spiritual leader of the church I attended as a child. I still remember many of his teachings and continue to use them daily. Although he passed away, his influence lives on in my life in many ways.


Who is your authentic leader?

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