Authentic Leadership

The February 2007 edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains one of the best articles I’ve read in that journal in quite a while. The article, titled “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership” by Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer, is an adaptation of George & Sims’ book titled “True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership” due out in March 2007 (find out more about the book at

The article discusses the topic of being an authentic leader, or in other words, be the leader that you are capable of being. I have found that most books on leadership written by ‘experts’ in the field try to teach a person how to be a leader by ‘acquiring’ traits of other successful leaders and/or imitating those leaders. The article seems to address this same issue with the following excerpt:

No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else (George, Sims, McLean & Meyer, 2007, p. 129).

The purpose of article (and apparently the upcoming book) is to describe the necessity of leaders to look inward and find the true leader within. This type of activity requires a considerable amount of focus on understanding yourself and your values so that you can be the leader you are meant to be.

Kevin Cashman, founder and CEO of LeaderSource, agrees with this when he wrote in the November 1997 edition of Innovative Leader that:

Leadership is not simply something we do. It comes from somewhere inside us. Leadership is a process, an intimate expression of who we are. It’s our being in action. At its deepest level, leadership is authentic self-expression that creates value (Cashman, para. 3).

One of the most interesting passages from the HBR article suggests that the journey to finding your own leadership style starts with understanding yourself and where you have come from. They write:

The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life. Your life story provides the context for your experiences, and through it, you can find the inspiration to make an impact in the world (George, Sims, McLean & Meyer, p. 132).

This is an interesting concept and one that I think a lot of people try to overlook. The article (and I suppose the George & Sims book) provides examples of leaders and their ‘story’ and how their lives have made them who they are.

The above passage reminds me of the many leadership writings of Warren Bennis and his description of what it means to be a leader. In all of Dr. Bennis’ descriptions of ‘leader’, he includes character as being the “key to leadership” (Bennis, 1999, para. 11).

In my opinion, being an authentic leader means having the courage to be the person that you are and to lead as you would lead. Don’t try to imitate another leader. I think it is fine to model yourself after other leaders but be yourself in the process and find your own leadership style. George and Sims describe the authentic leader in a similar fashion when the write (from the authors’ website):

Authentic leaders are genuine people who are true to themselves and to what they believe in. They engender trust and develop genuine connections with others. Because people trust them, they are able to motivate them to high levels of performance. Rather than letting the expectations of others guide them, they are prepared to be their own person and go their own way (George & Sims, para. 6)


[tags] Leadership, Authentic Leader [/tags]

2 responses to “Authentic Leadership”

  1. lilianhutan Avatar

    Great minds think alike. I totally agree with you, especially on that part about staying true to your own person and not minding other people's expectations. Many companies lived by these ideas. Trianz for example. If you have this kind of leader, like they have, who can be anyone of the members of the team, then you have a recipe for success.

  2. ericbrown Avatar

    Thanks for stopping by.