Leading from within, and without…

January 31st, 2010

Authentic leadership… a term bandied about quite a bit these days.

And for good reason. It is exactly the kind of leadership we hunger for — in our politicians, our sports heroes and at work.

But what exactly is it? Maybe, like pornography, hard to define but we know what it is when we see it. Lately, especially in the political and sports arenas, leadership has seemed more pornographic than authentic.

For me, the authentic side of leadership both begins and ends with our integrity. Our integrity really depends on self knowledge, humility and a willingness to have the difficult conversations that most of us put off, day after day, year after year.

So, we need to first be honest with ourselves, which sounds a whole lot easier than it is. Yes, we can surround ourselves with people who are willing and able to mirror the hidden sides of ourselves. So that even if they aren’t capable of having those ‘difficult conversations’ with us, at least our minds and bodies will go into sufficient reaction to let us know that it is really as much about us as it is about them.

We can practice the kind of humility that Jim Collins describes in his wonderful book “Good to Great”, where he talks about great leaders as those that practice ‘the window and the mirror’ at work. When something good happens at work, great leaders look out the window (or their office door) and point to the people who helped make it happen. When things go wrong (and it really is when, not if) they look in the mirror and take the heat themselves (the buck stops here).

Difficult conversations… we know what those are. They’re all the things that we keep putting off, hoping the problems will either go away by themselves, or the people will go away, or someone else will take care of it.

Those are some of the things that constitute the within side of the equation.

The without?

That’s the trick of being able to do all of this without dogma, without blame, without judgment.

That’s my definition of authentic leadership.

How do you feel about that?