Anil Philip, President & Board Member, Xavier Institute Of Management and Entrepreneurship
“Authenticity and knowing who you are is fundamental to being an effective and long-standing leader.” - Ann Fudge.
The path towards authentic leadership requires introspection. It needs one to peel off the layers of society’s expectations that envelop us, right from our childhood. As youngsters, we were a more authentic version of ourselves and not afraid of being judged.
As a child, our playmates will typically include ANYBODY – from any strata of society and the only criteria would be having fun, but as we grow older, we replace our unbiased childhood lenses and begin to view those around us through society’s eyes.
So, society’s biases also begin to cloud our vision (and judgement). In the case of a leader who is operating with society’s blinkers on, it could result in a work environment that’s not inclusive, critical decisions being taken on the basis of inputs from an ‘old boys’ club’ instead of a diverse pool of talent, etc - all outcomes that could be detrimental to an organisation.
Hence doing the hard work to acknowledge how we’re conditioned by society, and proactively peeling back those layers, will help leaders find their authentic selves. Introspection also helps us understand what it is WE want to do - as opposed to what others want of us. Discovering that truth is the foundation of authentic leadership, and requires the right environment.
A diverse and stimulating environment - a Top-ranked B-School
What is it that will trigger the process of unlearning or peeling off the layers? Typically, an intellectually stimulating environment, where one’s safe, cookie-cutter beliefs are challenged by diverse, valid viewpoints leads to opening one’s mind. A top-ranked B-School with a globally bench-marked curriculum exposes minds to new approaches, experiences, and multiple solutions to the same problem - helping one arrive at new conclusions, shelve fossilised beliefs, and discover what truly excites and inspires you.
It’s easiest to lead with authenticity when you’re doing so using an approach you’re passionate about.
Challenges You May Face Along the Way
Becoming an Authentic Leader isn’t an easy task but it can be done if you are sure about your core value system. Sticking to those beliefs then becomes easier even when surrounded by people who embody negativity or conflicting values.
So, what does it exactly take to become an authentic leader?
All leaders must have a high level of self-awareness in order to be effective. Leaders who are not self-aware can come across as phoney, especially when they’re trying so hard to be authentic but haven’t taken the time to figure out who they really are and what makes them authentic. Authenticity is built upon being comfortable in one’s own skin and having solid foundations such as core values and character.
Able to build connections
Whether you are speaking in front of a large auditorium or talking to a single employee, it is vital to be able to make genuine connections. Being relatable and adapting to what will be most appropriate in every situation without being out of touch with who you are as an individual is possible only when one has discovered one's authentic self
High emotional intelligence
In an authentic leader, everyone can see that they remain true to their heart and mind both in private and in public situations. An authentic leader acts and speaks from the heart and will always ask themselves before personal disclosure: Is this relevant? Does this contribute to this individual understanding of my values or decision here? Disclosing too much information—especially if it is highly personal. They can read a situation better and show the maturity to all kinds of people and situations.
Leading by example
Being a leader can be stressful. Sometimes it’s difficult to walk around with “a mask”, trying to hide the emotions behind it in order to appear strong and competent. People wearing a mask sometimes want to be seen as they know what they are doing which can bring forward more pressure when one doesn‘t actually know everything on their mind. On the other hand, authentic leaders do not hesitate to remove their masks for fear of losing credibility because they understand the value of transparency.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister stands out as an authentic leader. She is consistently praised by her colleagues and the media for displaying strong leadership skills, especially empathy, and being an excellent communicator. She has always been transparent and honest about her personal life while leading the country as a Prime Minister. Her raw and un-masked emotions connected her to the country’s people and lead by example.
Whenever a leader has to make a tough decision, they leverage the power of their network. An authentic leader is never hesitant to request input from stakeholders and colleagues, reaching out formally or informally about whatever issues are at stake. Always ready to welcome any critical feedback that comes their way, and then evaluate the information at hand before deciding on a course of action for themselves.
“Be who you really are.” – is one of the hardest skills to master. But with a lot of self-development, self-awareness, mindfulness and self-acceptance, any student can ace it early in their life.
However, the ability to be authentic cannot be learnt in a day; it is something that takes time to discover through diverse experiences. Getting exposed to real-life challenges in Top-ranked B-Schools, where the challenges of the workplace are simulated, helps bring out one's true self.