Leading With Heart, Not Ego

The idea of authentic leadership in the business world gained significant attention in the early 2000s when Bill Georges’ book, ‘Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value’ was published.

Although authentic leadership only became prominent over two decades ago, its principles align well with other leadership qualities, such as ethics and integrity.

The essence of being an authentic leader is to be true to yourself, to stay grounded in your value system, and to build trust with your colleagues and team by taking ownership of both successes and failures.

It is also about self-awareness of your strengths, development areas, intentions, and understanding what triggers you.
Being an authentic leader, you act from the heart and intend to impact your team and the broader organisation positively.

A leader’s title is just the vehicle of authority and legitimacy through which they act.

As the saying goes: Trust is earned.

This applies to authenticity in leadership – it is earned over time.

Authentic leadership does not manipulate to gain short-term compliance, it inspires to foster long-term commitment and growth.

It transcends position and power and embodies the change you wish to see, guiding with empathy and leading by example in every action and decision.

To me, authentic leadership, in its most simplistic terms, means to be the leader you want to follow, to be honest about your intentions, and to focus on ‘we’ instead of ‘me’.

In my 29 years of experience in the corporate world in South Africa and Namibia, I have encountered many authentic leaders who have enriched and informed my journey as a leader.

However, there were also leaders on my path with less than genuine traits, which just encouraged and motivated me to do better and be better as a leader.

Over the years, I have learnt in abundance from all the leaders I have worked with, whether they were authentic in their approach or not.

Life is always about learning and developing, even under challenging circumstances.

If you do not make the most of any given learning or growing opportunity, it is a missed opportunity in your own development journey.

As the word implies, authentic leadership is often associated with the qualities of genuineness and truth, which are key pillars of a strong and effective leadership approach.

Such leaders possess deep self-awareness that encompasses a keen understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs.

All authentic leaders exhibit similar traits, including empathy, ethical decision-making, courage, resilience, servant leadership and passion.

The element of sincerity in their interactions and not engaging with others with an agenda stands out.

In my experience, authentic leaders value honesty and transparency in communication.

It is not the loudest voice that defines authentic leadership, but the most genuine one that listens and responds with integrity.

They willingly share information with their team and peers and are open about their own challenges and uncertainties.
They listen attentively, are comfortable showing their vulnerability or revealing their weaknesses, and seek help and guidance when needed.

On the other hand, leaders who lack authenticity may claim to have everything under control and refuse help or support from others.

This behaviour is often ego-driven and can hinder the team’s success.

An essential quality of authentic leaders is their consistency.

They demonstrate the same behaviour and values every day, whether in their personal or professional lives.

They do not pretend to be someone they are not, and make decisions based on their principles and values – even when faced with difficult choices.

Authentic leaders are also willing to take risks and confront challenges head-on.

They dare to stand up for what is right, even if it is not in their own best interests.

This leads me to another essential quality of an authentic leader, and that is accountability.

Authentic leaders hold themselves accountable for their actions, decisions and commitments and follow through on their responsibilities.

This creates a sense of reliability and integrity.

The benefits of authentic leadership for an organisation are endless.

Leaders who embrace authenticity positively impact organisational culture, enhancing employee engagement, building strong teams and contributing to overall success.

In today’s intricate business landscape, authentic leaders serve as a compass, directing organisations towards sustainable growth and success.

Becoming an authentic leader in the dynamic world of business can be challenging, but it also offers an opportunity to demonstrate courage and resilience by standing up for what is right and acting in your team’s and the organisation’s best interests – even if it means standing alone or being sidelined.

This can be challenging, especially when faced with obstacles and setbacks in an environment that may not always prioritise authenticity.

  • Marlize Horn is the group executive of brand and corporate affairs at Capricorn Group.

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