Authentic Leadership

Last week, we looked into Heroic Leadership and one of my favorite books and authors.  Another author of leadership articles and books whom I respect greatly is Bill George.  Bill has written a number of fine books; he wrote Authentic Leadership a little more than a decade ago.  Bill is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic.  He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002.  During Bill’s twelve-year leadership at Medtronic, the company’s market capitalization soared from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, averaging 35% per year.

 Bill George is currently a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. Bill currently serves as director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic and also served on the board of Novartis and Target Corporation.  He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA and Guthrie Theater and a former Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and the medical device trade association, Advamed.

 One of the many points that Bill makes is regarding the importance of self-awareness.  Authentic leadership requires the courage and honesty to open up and explore your inner self.  Authentic leaders also realize that they have to be willing to listen and accept feedback.  His prescription for better leadership calls for authentic leaders of the highest integrity who are committed to building enduring organizations, who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.

Authentic leaders genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership, and are more interested in making a difference by empowering the people they lead, rather than the power, money, or prestige leadership can bring themselves. They are guided by passion and compassion.

Each leader must develop his or her own leadership style that is consistent with his or her personality and character. The authenticity of the leader is more important than the style with which the leader leads. Authenticity means accepting one’s faults as well as using one’s strengths.

Authentic leaders demonstrate these five qualities:

1.         They pursue their purpose with passion.
2.         They practice solid values and principles.
3.         They lead with their hearts as well as their heads.
4.         They establish connected relationships.
5.         They demonstrate self-discipline.

In an article in Harvard Business Review on a related topic, Bill and his colleagues wrote, “you do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader.  You do not have to wait for a tap on the shoulder.  You do not have to be at the top of your organization…Discovering your authentic leadership requires a commitment to developing yourself.”