How to be an Authentic Leader?

Bill George author of True North’s speech on Leadership at the World Business Forum

The world is crying out for leadership – what can each of you do to make the world a better place? Today’s environment is a product of a leadership crisis – leaders who take responsibility for their firm. They lose sight on why are they called to lead. Historically we have chosen people for their image rather than their substance – what do you expect you will get if you chose a leader based on image.

So what is an authentic leader?

Bill conducted a survey of over 1200 submissions on LinkedIn. The survey was a single question: Who do you think is the most authentic leader? Warren Buffet emerged as the most admired authentic leader.

What emerged from this was a New Definition of Leadership for the 21st Century – just 4 simple words:

Align – align around mission and values – this is what we stand for – how else can people around the world in the company know what to do?

Empowerment – key to leadership in the 21st century is to empower wised leaders who empower everyone in the organization.

Serve – serving is not about serving the shareholder, its about how well do we serve our customers. The notion of serving the customer reinforces the shareholders.

Collaborate – collaborate within and outside the organization to solve customers’ problems

How do we develop these kinds of leaders?

Talked to 125 successful and authentic leaders – what stood out was the life stories of each of these individuals. More than 80% of the interviews identified a “crucible” moment – something that transformed them. Example: Howard Schultz – father fired, lost his pension, father had 30 rotten jobs – his goal was to build a company his dad would be proud of. Years later he took Starbucks from 3 stores to 16000 stores. The dream and the fear of failure were what propelled him.

6 key attributes of 21st Century leaders:

Self awareness – know who you are through honest feedback from people who know your blind spots. “Leadership is a long journey into you own soul”.

Practicing your values under pressure – put yourself in difficult situations that challenge your values – you will understand very quickly what your values are.

Motivations and capabilities – we like the recognition externally but it needs to be balanced with the intrinsic motivation.

Coping with the loneliness of leadership – build a support team around you that you can be gut level honest with.

Leading an integrated life – balance is key with today’s pressure of life – maintain the integrated of your life – are you the same person at home, at work, in the community?

Know the purpose of your leadership – follow your compass not your clock – your own True North! When you know you purpose you can really empower those around you.

Think about your own leadership – what are you going to do to make a difference in the world? At the end of the day the only thing we can take with us is what we leave behind!

3 comments to How to be an Authentic Leader?

  • Anonymous

    Great post! I am still working at BearingPoint because I wanted to learn from one of the leaders in my practice. She has been a positive influence and has empowered and guided me so that I am more confident in myself and in my abilities as a consultant.

    I appreciate your posts! Keep it up.

  • Paul Dunay

    @anonymous – thank you for sharing your experience at BearingPoint with me.

    Its great to hear and great to have a relationship with a leader who you respect and is responsible for your learning and development.

    I wish you the best and please feel free to reach out to me if I can ever help you …

  • Jeff Huggins

    I don’t understand how to reconcile these facts: Professor George talks about leadership and True North; he is a Board member of ExxonMobil; scientific organizations have soundly and loudly said that climate change is real and very problematic; and yet ExxonMobil feeds us gibberish in the public media and tries to block and delay responsible action. And, Professor George holds a chair in ethics, of all things, at HBS. How can we, or he, reconcile these things?

    Jeff Huggins
    Harvard Business School, class of 1986, Baker Scholar

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