Sustainable OD

A blog dedicated to the wonderfull field of Organisation Development

The problem with authentic leadership


It is the time when people want leaders they can trust. This means leaders who are genuine, human, open, vulnerable and visionary. This all sounds great right? Of course it does! Who wouldn’t follow someone who they could trust and inspired them to a great vision? I know that is what I would love to see in leaders.

So what is the problem with authentic leadership?

That they are hard to come by in the world and not because leaders don’t want to be authentic, but I don’t think they necessarily know how. I will generalise for the sake of this blog post, but fortunately enough I have also come by the great authentic leaders in my life time so I know they exist. But why is it so many leaders find becoming authentic leaders difficult?

  • They come from a generation that was taught that knowledge is power. Their entire career they have functioned in this way making it to the top because their USP was their knowledge, whether specialised in a field or a certain company. This may mean they are not so great at delegating or trusting others with information.
  • They were told to leave their personal baggage at home. I know this as I remember still being taught this at university. However, this no longer applies. Mainly because research has shown how this is impossible to do. What happens at home affects work and what happens at work affects home, there are no clear boundaries when it comes to stress, emotions, and therefore performance. Nevertheless, as they learnt that this was the case they have spent time creating a “safe façade” for times of stress to look as they have it all under control.
  • Leaders for many generations have been told that they are fully responsible for their organisation. Can you imagine this kind of weight over your shoulders? No wonder they keep their distance, act authoritarian as if the organisation is their property, and try to pretend to be calm when something is going wrong and hide information may damage them.
  • From a gender perspective, female leaders were told that the only way to be a leader was to go to battle with “the top white men” to fight for those positions in power, imitating their way of being instead of embracing their self.
  • Power = leadership idea. They were taught that you had power if you were at the top and you had to command respect. This is very different that saying, you must earn the respect of others and this will make it easier for people to believe in you and work with you to reach mutual goals.

The problem is things have drastically changed in the business world, not only because the newer generations want and know that work is an extension of the self and therefore want to work somewhere they believe in (they are more focused on purpose rather than money), but also because of media and a sense that we, as Maslow well puts it, as humans desire to fulfil other needs (esteem, self actualisation). The advances in technology and media help us uncover the truth and people will always be searching for the truth, so it is time to create a new paradigm within organisations, a new culture, a new way of working that will enable us to have the authentic leaders we are all hungry for.

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