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Finding true north, for leaders of any organisation, can help to form a solid basis for building a culture of authentic leadership. This week’s blog looks at what authentic leadership means and how this strategy can become one of the most powerful and positive forms of influence in any business.

Definitions surrounding leadership can border on the complex, as the criteria surrounding them tend to be fairly arbitrary and usually dependent on context. Attempts have been made to systematically categorise types of leadership in reliable and valid descriptive criteria, but in an industry where flexibility is key, this rigid approach would seem counter intuitive. However, one thing we can claim with certainty is that to be a leader, with any degree of success, you need followers and, it’s how those followers are won and retained which form some of the most informative criteria for leadership, authentic or otherwise.

Style over substance?

A recent study published by Shamir & Eilan (2018) argues that authentic leaders do not fake their leadership just because they are in that position, nor do they rely on a position of leadership for personal validation and fulfilment. Furthermore, authentic leaders lead on their values and don’t try to duplicate anyone else in the process. One thing their research clearly differentiates though is that authentic leadership is not to be confused with a leader’s behavioural style and this is where the concept becomes intriguing as it is the leader’s self concept, expressed through their behaviour which is the hallmark of their authenticity.

The power of story-telling…

To begin building valued and genuine working relationships, followers tend to affiliate themselves with leaders who reflect their own personal values, beliefs and convictions. Far from being a staged production, authentic leadership acknowledges the highs and the lows of life experiences, being in a position of responsibility and decision making authority. In his book Discover Your True North, Bill George documented the experiences of selected leaders, distilling their wins and losses into clear principles for success.

For Shamir & Eilan (2018) authentic leaders are those who have self knowledge and self-clarity. They consciously acknowledge the experiences, good and bad, which have shaped their character through the development of their life story. It is this “why I am here”  life story which allows the leader to express their values, beliefs and experiences of relationships which give followers the opportunity to establish trust in that person.

Feeding forward…

Whilst story telling as a platform for authentic leadership is a fairly emergent field in the literature, how have life stories shaped your experience of leadership? Given that  alignment with beliefs and principles are not a leadership style, is that enough to base weighty decisions on, such as competence to lead an organisation forward? Shamir & Eilan (2018) suggest that it is more nuanced than that. Authenticity is not necessarily universally valued and its utility will likely vary according to the context. For now though, it provides a valuable perspective on leader selection and development where congruence with brand values and principles take centre stage in recruitment objectives.

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George , B. (2015) Discover your true north. John Wiley & Sons

Shamir, B. & Eilam-Shamir, G. (2018), “What’s Your Story?” A Life-Stories Approach to Authentic Leadership Development, in Israel Katz , Galit Eilam-Shamir , Ronit Kark , Yair Berson(ed.) Leadership Now: Reflections on the Legacy of Boas Shamir (Monographs in Leadership and Management, Volume 9) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.51 – 76

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