Authentic Leadership

I can’t stress enough how GREAT the February issue of Harvard Business Review is. I’ve already got the March issue, plus several other magazines I want to read, but I have been putting them off as I continue to read super articles in this issue.

As I said in the last post, I am very impressed with the leadership framework that Ancona et al. came up with that describes leadership in terms of the four capabilities of sensemaking, relating, visioning, and inventing. If you had to pick only four areas to pay attention to as a leader, those four seem like a good framework to me. And I also like the notion of simplifying things and really only focusing on four.

That’s what you DO as a leader, but how do you become one? The next article, by Bill George et al. gets into that in discussing “authentic leadership” (George wrote a book by that title). The authors did what they describe as the “largest in-depth study of leadership development ever undertaken.” They noticed that all the leadership studies that have been done have yet to tell us consistently what the profile is of an ideal leader. Leadership seems like an elusive concept, an “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of thing. According to the authors, the lack of a profile makes sense, because the essence of leadership is not copying an external profile, but being authentic:

After interviewing these individuals, we believe we understand why more than 1,000 studies have not produced a profile of an ideal leader. Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see that these people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success. Rather, their leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experiences and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.

Oh no! Not touchy-feely stuff about life stories and authentic selves!? Yes. Sorry to disappoint, but this is the path to better leadership. And it is not limited by age or position. Their interviewees ranged in age from 23 to 93, with no fewer than fifteen interviewees in each decade. You must know yourself better to become a better leader.


  1. 28.02.2007 at 10:11 am

    Thanks for sharing — very insightful. It resonates with me that ‘real’ leaders do not put on someone else’s colors. That is, they are authentic to themselves, which requires self-awareness first. However, does this mean that it cannot be developed?
    I’ll look for this book given your post. Appreciate your bringing it to light!
    Halelly Azulay