The credibility of CEOs has had the biggest decline in the 12 year history of the Edelman Trust Barometer from 50% in 2011 to 38% in 2012. The credibility question: "Who is credible enough for you to believe?" was posed to a group known as the "informed public" aged 25-64 years of age, spanning 20 Countries.
There is without doubt a mismatch in the "informed public's" perception of business: they expect (67%), as one of the drivers of success for a business, that treating employees well, would be important, but when asked how businesses were actually doing on this driver, only 27% felt businesses were doing this well.
Perceived factors in this mismatch of expectations are:
• Poor management (29%)
• Unethical Business Practices (28%)
• Shortcuts that lead to poor quality (21%)
We are certainly going through tough times; there is no doubt about this. But, what can we do? Quite a lot, actually! The term Authentic Leadership may have some answers for us. Authentic Leadership is not a new way of thinking about leadership. In fact I would say that it is more of an amalgamation of the best, drawn from the leadership models of the past.
In this way Authentic Leadership is not a fad but could be the salvation that businesses are looking for, if they wished to resolve some of the concerns highlighted above. Authentic Leadership is not the 'guru' model of leadership where an organisation's salvation comes solely from the top. Authentic Leadership can be practised by leaders at all levels of an organisation. And let's face it - the success of an organisation is not the result of a single leader but the result of many leaders throughout the organisation.
What is Authentic Leadership?
From the Greek word 'Authentikos' meaning "genuine, principal" - conforming to reality and therefore worthy of trust, reliance or belief.
• Knowing who you are & what you represent
• Consistency between values, words & actions around a known purpose
• Facing business life 'as it is' to keep it real
• The open & honest expression of what is important and matters
• Courage & conviction to remain true to fundamental beliefs
Authenticity is not:
• Vague ideals to be the best or a 'holier than thou' sanctimonious attitude
• Sentimentality that bares all to the world
The Value Authentic Leadership brings
To answer this we can look to the old adage of: 'People join organisations, but leave managers'. Accenture conducted their own internal research and identified that 80% of employee engagement - the difference between people coming to work and doing an adequate job, and people coming to work and really giving of their best, displaying creativity and using their initiative - was down to line managers.
Engagement can be seen as ultimately about performance. If individuals are performing at the top of their potential, then it makes sense that teams, departments, organisations will be more effective. Overall, performance will be improved. Who would not want that?
I can relate to an example of an authentic leader that I had the pleasure of working with some years ago. What stood out for me was that you knew exactly where you were with him. He had high standards and held me to account, via an excellent management practice, whilst he set a high bar for me to achieve I knew that he was there with me.
Interestingly, I believe he may even have inspired the name of my company 'Growing Edge' as it was at the edge of my capability that the true growth in me came. I continue to share his simple but effective practice of holding me to account on my development programmes.
What he created was a high performance environment where I felt stretched, energised and encouraged to achieve my best. He was someone that you knew would remain consistent over time and generated a sense of importance and value in the work that I was doing.
So why did I leave? Well, the authentic leader was an internal client and not my line manager, who had a subsequent Performance Management conversation with me that went something like this: "Chris, I see you and the rest of the team as equally effective performers so I'm giving you all a 3, well done!" Honestly, even differentiating my performance negatively compared to a peer would have been better. I went home deflated, discouraged and disheartened.
Authentic Leadership in Action
What the authentic leader did, that my line manager failed to do - due to their desire to not ruffle feathers and therefore, not be authentic - was, to borrow a phrase from Kouzes and Posner's book The Leadership Challenge: encourage the heart. Not in a touchy feely way of management but applying the essentials of good leadership by focusing on clear standards, expecting the best, paying attention and personalising recognition.
Without authenticity you can never develop trust. Without trust, you will never develop people. Without people you will never develop a following. And without followers, you have no one to lead.
Authentic Leadership is certainly not a fad and could well be your salvation. Be authentic and you will lead well!
Chris Dixon is the founder and managing director of Growing Edge Limited. Growing Edge is a Leadership & Management Development consultancy based in Hong Kong with a reach in Asia operating at the individual, team and leadership level. http://growingedgelimited.com