Leadership Notes #73 – Authentic Leadership/True North

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

Bill George’s “Authentic Leadership” (2003) is his own take on the servant leadership concept. He has recently added to this with the concept of “True North” (2007) with Peter Sims, which gives a model on how to become an authentic leader. He has also put out “Finding your True North” (2008) and “True North Groups” (2011) with others. (I have not checked over these last 2 books).

In the Authentic Leadership model, there are 5 dimensions that make it up:

• Purpose (understanding your purpose)
• Values (practice solid values)
• Heart (Leading with heart)
• Relationship (establishing connected relationships)
• Self-Discipline (demonstrating self-discipline)

In True North, you have 5 key areas that make up your `personal leadership development plan’:

• Self-Awareness (know your authentic self)
• Values & Principles (define your values and leadership principles)
• Motivations (understand your motivations)
• Support Team (build your support team)
• Integrated Life (staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life)

As noted, in “Authentic Leadership”, there are 5 dimensions.

With “purpose”, it’s about why are you there as a leader. What do you hope to do or accomplish? Keep in mind that in the idea of servant leadership, the two extremes are that you are there for yourself (the leader-first leader), or you are there for those you lead (the servant leader), or somewhere in between. It’s not so much of a vision, but a more broader idea of purpose. Sometimes understanding the purpose or reason for the particular group or organization you are part of.

As leaders, one should have values. It’s funny (or sad) that too often values aren’t spoken about in regards to leadership, until there is a crisis caused by a lack of values. Some organizations make a point of having a clear set of values, a set of behaviors expected of the members (to themselves, to others in the groups, to others outside the group). Ideally, the leaders should exemplify these values. As those involved in Scouting, we should understand the concept of having a set of values we all subscribe to.

Leading with heart is about how the leader treats others on a personal level. Again, a big element of servant leadership is the relationship between the leader and the follower. This concept is also a big part of Joel Manby’s work, “Love Works” (a topic of a previous Leadership Notes), on his company’s take on servant leadership. Again, too often there is the view that leaders must be tough, that `love’ (however you call it) has no place. Certainly Manby’s work does well in showing that’s wrong.

Building those relationships between leader and follower goes hand in hand with that concept. The classic concept is that the leader must be aloof and detached from those they lead, else they will fail somehow as leaders (especially when it comes to making the hard decisions). But, again, this doesn’t work in servant leadership and I see more leadership works moving away from that classic concept.

And finally, the leader must have self-discipline. This takes form in a couple of ways. One is that the leader is consistent in how they conduct themselves. And the next is that they have control of themselves and their emotions. This is basically the idea of Emotional Intelligence which I’ve covered previously.

Now, “True North” takes this idea further. As noted, the point of this book is to give a framework in which one has a compass for becoming an “authentic leader”. That compass has 5 key areas. Further, there is a 3 step leadership journey that one takes to becoming a leader. Those 5 key areas are.

Self-Awareness is first. It’s about knowing yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? This is a common theme among several leadership development programs, of finding where you currently stand as a leader, then working to improve the areas one is lacking.

Next is Values & Principles. What values are most important to you? What principles guide you as a leader? The book defines values as those things most important in your life. The leadership principles are your set of standards for how you lead others. They are your values turned into action. Not to be forgotten is the idea of ethical boundaries, which are limits on your actions based on your standards. (basically right and wrong).

Then there is Motivations. What are your motivations as a leader? These can be external (reward or recognition) or internal (personal growth, satisfaction). There are also internal and external motivation (those coming from within you, and from outside of you. And sometimes you need to balance these.

For any leader, the Support Team is important. These are your mentors, those who will guide and support you. Don’t confuse these with those at a higher level (tho there can be some overlap). Again, the concept of mentors (and ideally more than one) is something that is becoming more and more important in many leadership development programs.

Finally, as a leader you need to have an Integrated Life. You need to keep everything together and in balance to have fulfillment. We often here of people who “burn out”, and it’s usually due to not having balance in their lives.

Also not to be overlooked is the development phases of the leader. A leader doesn’t happen overnight. Often people who become leaders have done so after a long period of growth and development. The author speaks of 3 phases in this process:
• Phase 1- Preparing for Leadership
• Phase 2- Leading
• Phase 3- Giving Back

Preparing for Leadership is one that hopefully most of us have been involved in. Here is where one is part of a group, learning in the process and being a contributor. You character as an individual and as a potential leader are being developed. A phrase used here is “rubbing up against the world”: finding things out. What works and what doesn’t.

Next hopefully is Leading. Ideally one has stepped up to being a leader (or maybe pushed into it). There may be ups and downs. The author calls these “crucibles”: issues that arise that a leader will need to address. These will test the leader. How they are handled will say a lot about the leader. Hopefully the leader will emerge at where they should be: their peak level.

Finally, the leader Gives Back. They use the lessons and experience they gained in helping or mentoring future leaders.

Now, like many leadership works I do have to criticize these books for being too business oriented. While the concepts are good, the books are too much oriented to the business world (and the stuff touching on political issues is also unwanted). There are no examples that are non-business, and some things brought up have little equivalence in the non-business world. So keep this in mind when reading them and trying to apply the ideas.

Here are some useful videos.

Bill George on Leadership: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_4b2lS1yuM (more on the “leadership crisis” due to picking leaders for the wrong reasons)

Bill George at Google on True North (LONG): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0mXxkLWobk