Authentic Leadership - A Personal Philosophy

Mandela's own leadership journey continues to serve as an inspiration to people around the world. His ability to rise above the inhumane treatment from his jailers and others in positions of power at the time reflect authentic leadership.

The purpose of this article is to share some of what I have learned over 15 years as a student of leadership, and to challenge the reader to take the time in the weeks ahead to reflect on their own personal leadership and to ask themselves the question: Am I an authentic leader?

Many writers on the subject argue that leadership can be learned. I'm not quick, however, to reject the older school view that leadership is something with which people are born. Many of the contemporary thinkers on leadership reject that leaders are born. Now, it's argued that everyone can be developed into a leader.

I've identified an approach to address the issue of who possesses leadership in an organization or a community. It consists of two types of leadership: Big L and Little L. My personal view is that only a few of us will ever have the dynamic leadership behaviors and skills to lead organizations, private, public or non-profit, large or small, or the populace of a country, state or province. What propelled people like Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, and Nelson Mandela to be world-class leaders? For those who are sports-minded, consider the great athletes like Bobby Orr, Billy Jean King, Wayne Gretsky, or Mohammed Ali. Why do some children at a very young age show an incredible skill in a certain discipline, yet other children work hard but only attain a certain level of proficiency?

Power can be an important component of effective leadership, provided it is used properly and for the right purposes. When top leaders abuse power by controlling and manipulating their subordinates, then these are not Big L leaders. They may be good managers, but when it comes to inspiring people and leading with integrity, they fall short of achieving this.

The late Peter Drucker believed that leadership must be founded upon a constitution. "I am amazed that today's prominent writers on leadership do not seem to realize that the three most charismatic leaders in all recorded history were named Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Leadership has to be grounded in responsibility. Drucker was an advocate for shared leadership. He believed in employee responsibility and the need for a "self-governing community," where individuals and teams share in many managerial activities. This brings me to the concept of Little L leadership.

This is the leadership we see displayed throughout organizations and community. I'll share a personal example. While I had the technical skills and knew the work, I had zero management training. It took a while but I learned to eventually let go and share the leadership within my branch. I was still the managerial leader, but the people with whom I worked certainly took a lot of initiative and consistently demonstrated leadership in their own ways. Here are three questions you may wish to reflect on when it comes to developing your leadership skills:

(Be honest with yourself)
I'll share one piece of advice, something I've learned: If you want to inspire others (an essential part of leadership), you need to be passionate about your cause.

People have to know their duties and understand the interdependency of their efforts.

What struck me most about watching the surgeon (a middle age Black man) was his calmness in dealing with highly stressful situations in the midst of chaos - multiple victims of car accidents and victims with gunshot wounds. If I lose it, they lose it." Home? No, he went to do volunteer work with inner city Black children. For me, this man showed exemplary leadership. But this prompts the question: was this Black man born as a natural leader, or did he develop his leadership skills over time?

We need:

Once we address these questions and reexamine our values and beliefs, we'll be ready to move forward in our leadership journey. Yes, leadership skills can be learned. This journey is a very personal and private one. Authors Kouzes and Posner express this beautifully when they state:
"You can't elevate others to higher purposes until you've first elevated yourself....You can't lead others until you've first led yourself through a struggle with opposing values....A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and with colleagues. Such a leader has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation."

Here are four excellent questions they pose to help facilitate the leadership journey:
o What are my values and beliefs on how people should operate in the organization?
It gets at the heart of the shared leadership issue. Regardless of one's "position" in the organization, there are times when one steps forward to lead and times when one steps back. As Kouzes and Posner state:


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