In pursuit of prosperity beyond promises: Need for authentic leadership in action

Monday, 24 August 2020 00:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Authentic leaders have to awaken the team spirit in fostering synergy

 


Overview

They say new brooms sweep clean. We have a brand-new compact cabinet with another set of state ministers. As the entire nation waits in much anticipation of expected results, there is a sense of optimism of stability and suitability in the ruling circles. I have never been a political animal in being for or against people at the helm. My attempt here is to highlight the relevance of authentic leadership in serving the country better. In fact, authentic leaders are in high demand in ensuring prompt action towards navigating the nation. 

Authentic leaders in dire need 

Leadership literature is full of fancy jargon and multitude of packaging as well as re-packaging. One significant trend in recent past in the east and west alike is the focus on authentic leaders. As we are aware, leadership is all about inspiring, influencing and initiating. It is more than positions and titles as it involves decisions and actions. What is the specialty of authentic leadership? Let’s discover. 

Authentic leaders had always been there in the world. All great religious leaders are obviously authentic. From Jathaka stories to the Bible, many such examples could be found. Yet, as in most of the cases, the real packaging was done in the west. The concept of authentic leadership was made popular by Bill George in 2003.

According to his website, www.billgeorge.org, George makes the case that we do need new leaders, not just new laws, to bring us out of the corporate crisis. He persuasively demonstrates that authentic leaders of mission-driven companies will create far greater shareholder value than financially oriented companies. He describes his approach as a tested guide for character-based leaders and all those who have a stake in the integrity and success of our corporations.

How would an authentic leader differ from the rest? Forbes magazine gives the following four reasons:

1. Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine. Authentic leaders are aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They also show their real selves to their teams. They do not act one way in private and another in public; they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. They also realise that knowing themselves better is an endless journey, never complete.

2. Authentic leaders are mission driven and focused on results. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organisation ahead of their own self-interest. They do the job in pursuit of results, not for their own power, money or ego.

3. Authentic leaders lead with their heart, not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability and to connect with their employees. This does not mean authentic leaders are “soft.” In fact communicating in a direct manner is critical to successful outcomes, but it’s done with empathy; directness without empathy is cruel.

4. Authentic leaders focus on the long-term. A key tenet in Bill George’s model is the company leaders are focused on long-term shareholder value, not in just beating quarterly estimates. Just as George did as a CEO of several leading business organisations, leaders realise that to nurture individuals and to nurture a company requires hard work and patience, but the approach pays large dividends over time.

I was contemplating on what Bill George attempts to say. For me the key is authenticity. It comes from being ethical and effective. What could be an appropriate way to connect Bill George’s authentic leadership with what we need to do? I propose triple spheres for leaders to depict their authenticity, namely servant, synergist and strategist. 

Authentic leader as a servant

We have often discussed the need for a leader to be a servant. It goes with the maxim that those who serve deserve leadership. It was Robert Greenleaf Robert who “branded” the concept of servant leadership. “The servant-leader is servant first. Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” That’s how Greanleaf described the servant leadership. 

This fits to the Ethos dimension of Aristotle. It means good character, proper sense and right will. Authentic leaders should be willing to serve in a genuine manner. We find many such examples from multiple fronts. From the religious front, Mother Theresa devotedly demonstrated the dedication towards deserted children. From the business front, Jan Carlzon of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is a fitting example where he upheld service at all levels. “We have 50,000 moments of truth every day”, said he at the beginning of the successful SAS turnaround, referring to every time an employee of the company came into contact with a customer.

Authentic leader as a synergist 

A leader needs a team in order to move towards a shared dream. It is not being autocratic but democratic, not being coercive but collaborative. World of sports has many such examples where the leader harnesses a winning team. 

Authentic leaders have to awaken the team spirit in fostering synergy. Leveraging on strengths of each team member, the leader can collectively do more. What Mahathma Gandhi demonstrated in rallying a nation with non-violence against a forceful empire is this reality. He was a true synergist and the community, even while he was in jail practiced what he preached.

In the business world, we meet Steve Jobs of apple fame who spoke a lot on passion. He ignited the spirit of innovation among his team members in being a strategist. So was Narayana Murthy when he created Infosys in India where every member was proudly called as an Infosyan. 

This fits the Pathos dimension of Aristotle. It represents being emotionally involved and showing kindness to the followers. 

Authentic leader as a strategist

 This is where the head comes before heart and hand. Crafting and executing “the game plan” of the organisation is what an authentic leader should do. It reminds me of a brilliant book I read so many years ago, titled, “Mind of the Strategist”. Kenichi Omae vividly depicts the triangle consisting of company, customer and competitor. Siting many Japanese business successes, he highlights the need to be sharp and specific. “Rowing harder does not help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction”, said he. 

This fits the Logos dimension of Aristotle. It represents deep thinking, logical reasoning, and rationally arguing. Its connection to strategy making is very clear. 

Relevance to Sri Lankans 

Having observed the nature and features of authentic leaders, let’s see the relevance to us. Do Sri Lankan managers in the private sector and the administrators in the public sector think and act like authentic leaders? I leave it for the intelligent readers to decide. One thing is quite clear. We all can improve on this front. How to be an authentic leader? I would propose five Ps to ponder. 

Purposeful

Do we know the purpose of our organisations? It can be Vision, Mission or Aspiration. Clarity leads to commitment. Are we clear about the way forward in terms of living our purpose? Authentic leaders should do so. 

Passionate

Do we demonstrate passion in our actions? Are we ready to commit ourselves to fulfill our purpose? It is appropriate to do a soul-searching to see whether we are passionately attending to our tasks or passively doing so. 

Principled

Are we clear about our corporate values? Do we really demonstrate them in our actions? Are we willing to forgo monetary gains if it is conflicting with our principles? Are we really ready to sacrifice being “popular” for being “purposeful”? Then only authenticity is possible. 

Pragmatic

Are we practical in our suggestions and recommendations? Do we clearly see the ground reality or still see the clutter above? Are we willing to be participatory in decision making? Do we invite ideas from our team members? This is how authentic leaders act. 

Persuasive

Do we sufficiently influence our teams towards targets? Are we really convincing others the need to achieve challenging objectives? Do we invite our teams to believe in themselves in reaching difficult goals? Such a path is required to be an authentic leader.

Having looked at the scenario in general, it is pertinent to comment on the opportunities in front of state leaders in perform as promised. That’s where you need a structured approach in crafting and executing strategies. 

Grappling with ground realities 

There needs to be a comprehensive performance management system particularly in the public sector. It is sad to observe that despite many attempts during many times, it is still at a primitive state where meritocracy is still not given the due prominence. There was a conscious attempt to popularise the concept of Management for Development Results (MfDR) tested and proven in many public circles around the globe. It involves both short-term and long-term focus with moving from activities to outputs and outcomes. MfDR focuses on development performance and on sustainable improvements at country level. It also includes practical tools for strategic planning, risk management, progress monitoring, and outcome evaluation. In essence the perspective of impact or result is the central focus. In simple terms, for a desired result to be generated there should be an outcome. For the desired outcome there should be outputs. For desired outputs to appear there should be a series of activities that need to be done. 

Way forward 

The best way to take the discussion on authentic leaders forward is to be one of them. Authentic leaders are in high demand, locally and globally. Instead of being unethical, unfair and untruthful, what is acutely required is the authenticity. Operating in triple spheres as a servant, synergist and a strategist is what one should do. Perhaps the fresh opportunity in front of the country could be a wakeup call not only for the leaders at the helm but also for managers, administrators and officials at all levels to think and act like authentic leaders. This is the sure-fire way of navigating the nation towards prosperity. 

(Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri can be reached through director@pim.sjp.ac.lk, ajantha@ou.edu or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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