The current fragile global economic environment means that leadership has never been in the spotlight more than today. We have seen many examples of poor and unethical leadership in the failures of many global companies and organisations. So, with many examples of poor leadership, what constitutes a good leader?
In my own leadership roles that have included secondary school teaching and now the running of our family agriculture/export business, I have continuously examined and questioned myself in the understanding of my true leadership within (the true understanding of one’s self). The problem I had was without first knowing one’s self in leadership, then how could one be true to one’s self in leadership?
Information, books, personality tests and theories on leadership that I have found are good tools for generally being a better leader, but this typically did not help me to know myself and discover myself in leadership roles.
The Path to Self Discovery
This path to self-discovery has led me to publications on Authenticity in Leadership. Authenticity originated from Greek philosopher Socrates as “know thyself” and more famously known from Shakespeare’s Hamlet “to thine own self to be true”.
Authenticity has been further defined as owning one’s personal experiences and acting in accordance with one’s true self. This style of leadership is based around strong self-awareness and self-acceptance in which the leader is transparent in communicating their values, identity, emotions, goals and motives to others. This style of leadership would enable the development of these values being adopted across a whole organisation and creating an authentic organisational culture.
At the heart of Authentic Leadership are four components of an authentic leader:
- Self-awareness is the understanding of oneself and how a person views themself over time. It takes into account the understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Relational Transparency refers to presenting one’s true self to others rather than a distorted or fake self.
- Balanced Processing refers to how leaders objectively analyse all relevant data before coming to a decision.
- Internalized Moral Perspective is the decision making and behaviour that is consistent with one’s internal values.
On this path to being authentic in leadership, one first must discover one’s self before they are able to develop the self-knowledge of their values, which then can be used to positively influence their leadership behaviour.
How to Discover One’s Self
My path to self-discovery happened by accident when I was preparing a leaving speech from teaching for my colleagues. This speech triggered off a process of self-reflection on my life’s journey to date and the reasons for leaving the profession. After presenting the speech many of my teaching colleagues commented that they had gained a better understanding of who I was and the reasons for my leaving.
Since being in business, my leadership style has adopted a more authentic approach with a greater focus on being and knowing myself, rather than someone who I think I should be.
It took many years to find myself and to start to understand my personal leadership style. I am sure that many others are grappling with similar issues. This has led me to raise the question of how can we help more leaders and managers discover one’s self for developing strong and successful leaders for our future businesses?
Development of Leadership
It has been shown that an effective way of discovering one’s self is through life stories and a narrative self-reflective approach. This understanding of one’s self is gained through the self-relevant meanings of life experiences captured through one’s life story. This approach is the same process in which I started to discover myself through the preparation of my speech.
My idea to help other leaders and managers to discover one’s self would be through a programme based on journals to record one’s personal life events and stories. This would be part of a workshop programme where business leaders gather to reflect and discuss one’s journal recordings freely in an open and non-threating environment and to further learn authenticity in leadership. Participants would be inspired by other leader’s stories and reflections in addition to developing a better understanding of one’s self.
The Journal (Based on Branson’s 2007 model of “The Self”)
This is a structured self-reflective process which links the categories of life experiences, self-esteem, motives, values, beliefs and behaviour to help understand one’s self and one’s leadership style. Under each of these categories are questions, diagrams and other visual prompts to help with recording ones self-reflections.
- Leaders with strong values who understand themselves and show strong positive long-term leadership.
- An organisation of transparency, trust and strong values (internal and external).
- Reduced or eliminated bad and unethical decision making within an organisation.
- A positive organisational work environment with improved employee performance and satisfaction.
While this idea can be taken on at an individual level through the use of a journal for self-reflection (similar to myself), further research is needed around group programmes based on the development and fostering of authenticity in leadership.