On Authentic Leadership

I recently finished reading Authentic Leadership – Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value – by Bill George. I selected this book based on its appearance on Martha Heller’s blog posting entitled Leadership Books Recommended by CIOs and Technology Executives: http://blog.hellersearch.com/Blog/bid/124393/Leadership-Books-Recommended-by-CIOs-and-Technology-Executives . Authentic Leadership was recommended by both Paul Hanson and Dan Wakeman.

As best summarized by Bill: “Its (the book) message is simple to state but challenging to realize: we need authentic leaders to run our organizations, leaders committed to stewardship of their assets and to making a difference in the lives of the people they serve.” The book is structured as follows:  “First, I will describe authentic leaders and how they develop. Next, I will look at how authentic leaders build authentic companies, because that is the crux of leading. Third, I will show how authentic companies compete more effectively in the market, and, finally, how authentic leaders look beyond the bottom line.”

What sets this book apart is its call for authenticity in leadership (“discover and cultivate that authentic self”) – as opposed to being prescriptive, as is the case with most books in its category. Bill brings corporate America back to its root – authentic, genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief. A highly recommended read that stresses the need for new leadership – authentic leadership!

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “We need authentic leaders, people of the highest integrity, committed to building enduring organizations. We need leaders who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.”

2- “I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity. It’s being yourself; being the person you were created to be. This is not what most of the literature on leadership says, nor is it what the experts in corporate America teach…They describe the styles of leaders and suggest that you adopt them. This is the opposite of authenticity. It is about developing the image or persona of a leader.”

3- “There is no doubt that  CEOs have tremendous influence on the results of corporations. However, if we examine more closely the great success stories of the past twenty-five years…we see that each was built by a team at the top, not by a single person.”

4- “The key is having people around you who complement your weaknesses and make up for your lack of experience.”

5- “To become authentic, each of us has to develop our own leadership style, consistent with our personality and character. Unfortunately the pressures of an organization push us to adhere to its normative style. But if you conform to a style that is not consistent with who we are, we will never become authentic leaders.”

6- “Dimensions of Authentic Leaders: 1) Understanding their purpose 2) Practicing solid values 3) Leading with heart 4) Establishing connected relationship 5) Demonstrating self-discipline”

7- “The medium for developing into an authentic leader is not the destination but the journey itself – a journey to find your true self and the purpose of your life’s work.”

8- “…For each of the dimensions, a developmental quality is required for leaders to be effective: 1) Purpose: Passion 2) Values: Behavior 3) Heart: Compassion 4) Relationships: Connectedness 5) Self-Discipline: Consistency”

9- “Balanced leaders develop healthier organizations. By appropriately delegating their work, balanced leaders are able to make more thoughtful decisions and lead more effectively. Their employees make higher levels of commitment to the organization. In the end they achieve better results on the bottom line.”

10- “These five characteristics of the authentic company parallel closely the five dimensions of the authentic leader: 1) Purpose: Mission and vision 2) Values: Company values 3) Heart: Empowering employees to serve customers 4) Relationships: Enduring and committed organization 5) Self-Discipline: Results for all stakeholders”

11- “Articulating an organization’s value is straightforward, but gaining alignment of all employees throughout the company is much more difficult…Inculcating values throughout an organization starts with the leader, who sets the standard of behavior for everyone in the organization. The leader has to work hard every day to gain alignment with the company’s values, reinforcing positive actions and swiftly taking action with employees who do not emulate these values.”

12- “Companies that devote themselves to maximizing shareholder value will ultimately fail to do so. It is true that a sharp eye to cutting costs can result in significant improvements in a company’s short-term position, but unless the cost cuts are followed by  much larger long-term investments, the company is bound to lose its way. Shareholder value will stagnate and eventually decline.”

13- “Some executives mistakenly believe serving all stakeholders results in trade-offs and compromises shareholder value…In serving all the company’s stakeholders, the company’s sustained success makes shareholders the ultimate beneficiaries.”

14- “Pitfalls to Sustainable Growth: 1) Working without a clear mission 2) Underestimating the core business 3) Depending on a single product line 4) Failing to spot technology and market changes 5) Changing strategy without changing culture 6) Going outside core competencies 7) Counting on acquisitions for growth”

15- “(On Acquisitions)…The key is the integration process. Acquired companies can bring great creative and technical capabilities with them and challenge the existing organization to sharpen its innovative skills. They can also strengthen the management team with new talent and new approaches to serving customers. As the result of an effective process of integrating acquired companies, companies develop more enduring organizations.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership

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7 comments

  1. Thank you for the great intro to the book. Too often now we hear about people having to be rough and tough to get ahead and to stay ahead. I have always disagreed with this and this book helps guide leaders to create and sustain thriving organizations built on good, old-fashioned morals and values to ensure that it also does not become the case in the future.

  2. This is a great intro to the book — and a good summary of some of Bill George’s most passionate points. Despite the way it resonates with my own values-based leadership work, I have some problems with his approach. Mainly, he outlines a process of authenticity that only people with considerable power and many followers can match — this isn’t for the ordinary person, no matter what he says! Tell me, which secretary, which middle manager, which janitor can say their authenticity is valued in any company? It’s the CEO-level that makes the rules, and George, earnest and successful as he has been in his career, is talking about a very narrow range of leaders, as far as I can tell.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comments. My personal view is that authenticity starts at the top, but it needs to be supported at all levels of the organization to have a true and lasting impact. Everyone regardless of title/role has the choice to be an authentic leader is his/her own capacity. An authentic leaderwould strive in an organization that values authenticity, but in an environment that does not value that, it will come down to the individual and their own conviction.

      Regards,
      Omar

  3. Maybe it starts at the top because only the people at the top really have the power to live authentically and demand authenticity in organizational structure. That’s not to say that authentic organizations and values-based workplaces aren’t better — I believe they are! There’s more of a chance for something soulful to happen when authenticity is valued.

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