article

Authentic
Leadership

Revel Gordon

Effective leaders are authentic. That is, their leadership style reflects their character. Richard Branson looks entirely at ease lounging beside a jumbo jet surrounded by fetching flight attendants. This is the last thing one could imagine Warren Buffett doing. Yet both are effective leaders.

In an Australian context, former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon’s personal charisma and “larrikin” streak was reflected in his leadership style. He could not be more different to Telstra CEO David Thodey, who radiated measured calm and a genuine care for people – both staff and customers. They were both highly effective leaders, but with very different leadership styles that reflected their very different personalities.

Markus Buckingham’s thought provoking article in the June 2012 edition Harvard Business Review “Leadership in the age of the algorithm” discusses the need to utilise leadership approaches that reflect your personal style. To illustrate the point, he gives the example of US electronics retailer Best Buy, which conducted a study of the leadership techniques used by their top performing managers. One of the stars of the study – a store manager called Ralph – had what could only be described as a ‘colourful’ approach to leadership. “He played on his likeness to a young Fidel Castro. He called his store ‘La Revolucion’, posted a ‘Declaracion de Revolucion’ in the break room, and made supervisors wear army fatigues.” Every staff member wore a whistle, which they blew whenever they saw another team member do something good. Didn’t this make the store rather loud? “Sure,” said Ralph. “But it energised the place. It energised me. Heck, it even energised the customers. They loved it.” His unusual approach turned one of the worst performing stores into one of the best, across an entire range of metrics.

The point here is not to rush out and buy a whistle, or to put up posters. Rather, it is that Ralph identified a leadership approach that fit with his personality. He was being authentic and his team knew it, and as a result they responded with genuine enthusiasm. If you can identify leadership techniques that reflect your natural personality, you will come across as authentic and are far more likely to be an effective leader.

A final comment: do not confuse leadership techniques with leadership concepts. In the example above, while the whistles were an idiosyncratic leadership technique, the underlying leadership concept is universally relevant. That is, good leaders recognise and celebrate positive behaviours in their teams, ideally at the moment the behavior takes place. Also, being ‘authentic’ is not a license to engage in any behaviour you like. In fact, the capacity to manage emotions, rather than be controlled by them, is another characteristic of highly effective leaders.

Authenticity is central to effective leadership. So use leadership techniques that fit with your personality and values. You will come across as genuine and as a result will be far more likely to engage your organisation and achieve sustained, positive results.

Effective leaders are authentic. That is, their leadership style reflects their character. Richard Branson looks entirely at ease lounging beside a jumbo jet surrounded by fetching flight attendants. This is the last thing one could imagine Warren Buffett doing. Yet both are effective leaders.

In an Australian context, former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon’s personal charisma and “larrikin” streak was reflected in his leadership style. He could not be more different to Telstra CEO David Thodey, who radiated measured calm and a genuine care for people – both staff and customers. They were both highly effective leaders, but with very different leadership styles that reflected their very different personalities.

Markus Buckingham’s thought provoking article in the June 2012 edition Harvard Business Review “Leadership in the age of the algorithm” discusses the need to utilise leadership approaches that reflect your personal style. To illustrate the point, he gives the example of US electronics retailer Best Buy, which conducted a study of the leadership techniques used by their top performing managers. One of the stars of the study – a store manager called Ralph – had what could only be described as a ‘colourful’ approach to leadership. “He played on his likeness to a young Fidel Castro. He called his store ‘La Revolucion’, posted a ‘Declaracion de Revolucion’ in the break room, and made supervisors wear army fatigues.” Every staff member wore a whistle, which they blew whenever they saw another team member do something good. Didn’t this make the store rather loud? “Sure,” said Ralph. “But it energised the place. It energised me. Heck, it even energised the customers. They loved it.” His unusual approach turned one of the worst performing stores into one of the best, across an entire range of metrics.

The point here is not to rush out and buy a whistle, or to put up posters. Rather, it is that Ralph identified a leadership approach that fit with his personality. He was being authentic and his team knew it, and as a result they responded with genuine enthusiasm. If you can identify leadership techniques that reflect your natural personality, you will come across as authentic and are far more likely to be an effective leader.

A final comment: do not confuse leadership techniques with leadership concepts. In the example above, while the whistles were an idiosyncratic leadership technique, the underlying leadership concept is universally relevant. That is, good leaders recognise and celebrate positive behaviours in their teams, ideally at the moment the behavior takes place. Also, being ‘authentic’ is not a license to engage in any behaviour you like. In fact, the capacity to manage emotions, rather than be controlled by them, is another characteristic of highly effective leaders.

Authenticity is central to effective leadership. So use leadership techniques that fit with your personality and values. You will come across as genuine and as a result will be far more likely to engage your organisation and achieve sustained, positive results.