Friday, May 7, 2010

5 Traits of Authentic Leaders

Throughout my career, I have been in roles where I've been asked to implement change and lead teams of people who don't report to me on the organizational chart. I've had to create, motivate and implement plans without having the direct power to hold individuals accountable for the lack of measurable results or for resisting change that would benefit the organizational mission. From financial services to academia, implementing change is not easy and requires an authentic style of leadership. Being able to motivate is important, but the ability to affect change and see measurable results without the power a title sometimes holds requires clarity, alignment and inspiration.

The authentic leader finds a way to connect the mission, vision and project to the hearts and minds of individuals at every level in the organization. In corporations and academic institutions, I believe people are starving for authentic leaders. I've given some thought to the top five traits of authentic leaders that I've observed and seek to model:

1) Dream big dreams. Authentic leaders are typically visionaries. They see beyond the current predicament or situation. They believe that greater things have yet to be done and positive change is possible through hard work. They are realistic enough to see data, cultures and behaviors as influencers, but these are not roadblocks. They have hope for a the future and try to inspire that hope in others. They seek to methodically implement positive change with a view toward what is possible using data, strategic plannign and calculated risk taking.

2) Have strong values. Authentic leaders tend to demonstrate high moral character, integrity and belief in something greater than themselves. The authentic leader's core values are mainly seen, and sometimes heard. They are noble, trustworthy, fair and compassionate in decision-making. They may have motivational sayings or quotes displayed in their office. The authentic leader may attend church regularly or is part of a strong faith /spiritual community.

3) Seek to improve self first. An authentic leader knows they have weaknesses. They may read books on leadership or attend workshops for continuous learning in their area of expertise. They tend to work hard but exercise and try to make time to take care of themselves. They rest when they are tired and encourage others to do the same. They try to eat right, maintain a healthy appearance and connect to a strong support system. They recognize they are not perfect but accept it as an opportunity to grow.

4) Show courage. Being an authentic leader requires courage. Sometimes the authentic leader must speak the truth in a change resistant environment. They are often good communicators and presenters. The authentic leader knows how to address problems through honest, direct, consistent communication. They are not hurtful, just honest. And not everyone is ready for that, so the authentic leader may not be the most popular or well-liked, but they speak their truth in love anyway. The authentic leader even has colleagues or mentors who don't always agree with them but will encourage the disagreement and healthy resolution to it. The authentic leader will always try do what is right, even when it is unpopular.

5) Seek to leave a legacy. The authentic leader sees their work as bigger than themselves. Their work may be viewed as a calling rather than a just a career. They want to touch lives of people they haven't met. They want to leave a place better than they found it. They embrace changing times and trends but hold on to enduring core values. Authentic leaders have no doubt that they want others want to catch the spark and light the flame for years to come. They want the future to be more streamlined, simplified but always better for the next generation.

Emily Dickinson describes the authentic leader best:I dwell in possibility, a fairer house than prose. More numerous of windows, superior for doors. Of chambers as the cedars, impregnable of eye. And for an everlasting roof, the gambrels of the sky. Of visitors the fairest. For occupation this: the spreading wide my narrow hands to gather paradise.

Finally, Kierkegaard, describes the passion of the authentic leader:
If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for passionate sense of what can be, for the eye which ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating...as possibility?

Do you know an authentic leader? What traits have you observed in an authentic leader? Leave your comments below...