Wanted: Authentic Leaders

A key part of our mission at SGR is developing authentic leaders. You might say it’s one-third of the trifecta. We want to develop leaders who are innovative, collaborative, and…authentic. We believe that the most effective leaders in local government (and in any organization) have to be all of these things. Success in the 21st Century will require innovation, collaboration, and authenticity.

Of the three, you could make the argument that the most important one is authenticity. I say that because of three reasons:

  1. Our society’s hunger for relationship
  2. Our society’s growing skepticism, and
  3. Our society’s sophisticated ability to detect a fraudulent leader.

The sheer force of these three things combines to expel any tolerance we might have to truly follow a leader who doesn’t seem “real” to us. I want to say more about the first two of those reasons.

In the past, our society recognized authority to be in the seat of position. We respected someone as an authority because of the position he/she held. We respected him/her simply because of the title (supervisor, professor, crew leader, mayor, etc.) While that is still true to some degree, in many ways a huge shift is taking place.

Increasingly, our society tends to see authority, not in the seat of position, but in the seat of relationship. That’s why in the book, Managing the Millennials, the authors found that effective leaders relied upon “relational authority” not “positional authority.” They built relationships with followers. Those the book described as “ineffective leaders” relied upon positional authority. (And by the way, it’s not just true for managing Millennials. It’s true for managing in the new Millennium period.) The bottom line: people are more likely to see you as an authentic leader if they feel like they know you…the real you, and that the real you is congruent with the “public” you.

On top of our society’s hunger for relationship, we are decidedly skeptical about leaders. We have seen so many leaders who turned out to be self-serving and insincere that it has scarred us. When you believe in someone and that person disappoints you, it not only hurts, but it causes you to doubt the next person…and the next one…and so on. All leaders function in a somewhat “skeptical culture” today.

Perhaps it’s always been true that leaders have to earn trust, but I believe that as a whole, the workforce is more and more slanted toward skepticism. The violation of public and personal trust has given rise to a rather staunch skepticism about leaders in general. From the beginning, we doubt that you are authentic, so you must truly prove that you are.

How do you “prove” that you are an authentic leader in that kind of environment?

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

3 responses

  1. Hey Mike,
    Great post. I like the question you pose at the end of the post. I have pondered this for a bit and have decided that a leaders actions have to speak for them. Yet, when a skeptic watches for fault they will certainly find many for most leaders are far from perfect. And, it has been established that if a person goes into the woods looking for snakes they will see them everywhere – the sticks, the shadows, the rattling leaves will all appear as snakes. Is it not true that some skeptics will also be skeptical of the relationships that a leader works to establish.
    A further question that comes to mind is how does a leader get the skeptics to focus their gaze towards the authentic intentions and deliveries of a leader and quit looking for snakes?

    1. Hello, Mark. Thanks for your comment.

      A skeptic will most certainly try to “look for a snake” in everything that an authentic leader does. However, if the skeptic sees the leader CONSISTENTLY displaying authenticity, their guard will gradually come down over time.

      So even when the leader messes up, as long as he or she is quick to apologize and take blame for those actions, the trust will remain because it was handled appropriately and openly.

      Great question!

  2. […] my last post, I suggested that authenticity is arguably the most important issue in whether people will or will […]

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