Life, Leadership and Business

Monday, 22 February 2016

So, what is Authentic Leadership?

So, what is Authentic Leadership?

A colleague recently worked with a small Pharmaceutical Company to raise the level of leadership amongst their management. He says he knew it was going to be difficult after he learned that the top management had paid a marketing agency to design the company's values. The management handed him a marketing brief with four popular value words on it saying - "this is the image we want to portray."


Having a vision statement, policies and values for a company is vital to explain who they are and what they stand for to investors and clients alike. The culture of the company will happen as a result of how the system works, how it is driven and how it is motivated. When we say "how the system works" we are not implying the mechanics or procedure of how things work, but rather what attitude, motivation, intention and politics drives the process.

To have a company in this day and age buy their values from marketers is alarming. Values are an expression of who you are and what you believe in. The values your company reflects will be an extension of the people that work within the organization.  The potential for the bought values to conflict with and misrepresent the true values of the company is high. This confusion will cause investors, suppliers and client to distrust the organization. See the Top-Down Effect Article here

Authentic Leadership rarely exists in such companies. In fact, leadership as a whole will struggle to exist in such an environment. Being authentic means being true to one's self. Authentic Leadership sees management lead from an open and transparent place, involving employees at all levels in expressing the image and culture of the company. Simply, it means that what you do is congruent; the same as what you say you are going to do.

Congruence between intent communicated and actual actions taken is the simplest measure of authenticity. It would be great if the day-to-day business actions and decisions of the Pharmaceutical Company management are congruent to the bought value words. The company's branding will be congruent to the company culture inspiring trust within the investors, employees and clients in the company's sustainable future. This would be a win-win for everyone involved.
My colleague insisted that authentic leadership was not possible within the Pharmaceutical Company at that time for the following reasons:
  • Directorship developed strategy and policies without consulting management or supervisors. In effect they blindly made decisions that had serious impact of the business operations and moral of the employees. There was no consultation, no meetings, no investigations, just autocratic decision making. When things went sour, the directors shifted responsibility to the middle management citing poor skill levels as the reasons for failure.
  • Directorship of the company did not allow management to implement strategy, displaying no trust within the management, yet demanded loyalty. This one-sided relationship developed suspicion within the management structures which will ultimately end in cannibalism. How so? Management will turn on each other, not presenting a unified front to the employees, tearing each other apart in blame and accusations.
  • The company had no clear policies or procedures documented, preventing a consistent process for employees to follow. Management's reactions to steps taken - successful or otherwise, were also inconsistent, creating an unstable working environment. Directors asked managers to perform duties and then disciplined them when the consequences revealed themselves as unfavorable. This killed innovation and creativity within the company structure, with everyone too afraid to express what they thought about the strategy and too afraid to do anything to promote it.
  • Middle management was left to implement the bought values into the company culture, yet they were spied on, bullied and disciplined when the implementation plans did not meet with the directors' true values which were kept secret. This created apprehension amongst middle management as to what they should do, choosing rather to do nothing and remain safe (or at least left alone)to do their jobs.

So, this gives us an indication of the elements that destroy authentic leadership. What should the directors of the pharmaceutical company be striving for? What actions, behaviors and attitudes lend themselves to positive authentic leadership?

  1. Authentic leadership is best created with authentic people. It is better to start with the right foundation. If people have a natural response for secrecy or autocratic leadership they will find the transparency and openness taxing, difficult and frustrating. Start with leaders that know who they are, that have truthful self concepts and promote openness.
  2. Having clearly defined values that are a true reflection of the collective values of the team is essential. Having the management behave in a fashion that aligns with the values of the company is a lot simpler if those values are an extension of the managers or directors own values in the first place, thus eliminating the need to pretend.
  3. Policies and procedures are designed in such a way as to reflect the values and intent of the management body.  These policies should carry the purpose and intent of the leaders and be consistently applied.
  4. Authentic leadership is developed on the understanding that loyalty has its base in trust. Both trust and loyalty is bi-directional, i.e.: form employee to leader and from leader to employee. Leaders should regard the consequences of their decisions and how it will influence those around them. Most importantly, they should consider how the decisions they make influence the respect, trust and loyalty between themselves and their subordinates.

The reality of authentic leadership is that it is liquid. That means it moulds and changes with each passing situation and circumstance. Demonstrating it in one situation is no indication that someone has successfully applied authentic leadership. Consistency plays a major role in the bragging rights of any authentic leadership contender. 

The small Pharmaceutical Company failed to have a honest and open look at their management style and how they implement strategies in their organization, thus dooming themselves to an incongruent leadership style from the start.

Be real, be true and be consistent in your search for authentic leadership and one day visitors standing looking at your plaque inscribed with your value words will say - "I can see these portrayed in the way in which you do business!"


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