Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Authentic Leaders

Passion, purpose and core values distinguish an authentic leader from others, says Suresh Raina.

Budding professionals, in pursuit of money, fame, power and status, try hard to establish themselves while starting their careers. In order to quickly scale the corporate ladder, many succumb to imitate others. This holds them back from being the person they really are. In effect they hardly devote any time for self awareness and self discovery.

So what makes an authentic leader? The values that support authentic leadership are derived from your core beliefs. You cannot be authentic if you are trying to imitate someone else. People need to trust you and if they find that you are not your true self, it leads to a trust deficit.

What distinguishes authentic leaders from is the passion, purpose and core values that they possess, and which always guide their behaviour both at work and in personal life. They lead by their heads and also heart. They build personal relationships that are meaningful, as they know who they are at the core of their heart. 

Bill George, Ex CEO of Medtronic and now a professor at HBS, in his book “True North” has defined authenticity as the internal compass of your beliefs, values, and principles that guides you through life not only when things are going well, but also during a crisis. How strong is your value system in the face of temptations? Will you bend the rules to get through the crisis? It is only then that you learn what tradeoffs you are prepared to make.

Narayan Murthy, Chairman Infosys, is such an authentic leader. In one instance, during the early days, Infosys refused to pay a bribe to the telephone department, as a result of which it had to wait for an entire year to get a telephone connection. “What drains your energy is not the fiscal problem, but violating your value system,” said Murthy. “We always believed the softest pillow is a clear conscience”.

How does one become authentic? All of us are potential leaders, but do you understand what your true self is and deep down realise how to use your leadership skills to serve and lead others, no matter how small the task.

Being Authentic is a path to self discovery, a lifelong prayer that one has to embark on. It requires a firm commitment, the same as a musician or a chess master would make devoting themselves to a lifetime of discipline. Authentic leaders willingly listen to even a negative feedback. They learnt to accept defeat, take criticism and then move on. 

Your journey to authentic leadership builds upon your own life story. It provides the context for your personal experiences and interactions, both positive and negative that you have to face. Authentic leaders use these experiences to give meaning to their life, in the process discover their passion and values and the true purpose of their leadership.

Ratan Tata is another authentic leader who successfully maintained a fine balance between profitability and social impact. He led the globalisation of Tata without losing its Indian roots. He led the group on its "Think Big, Think Ahead” strategy that resulted in the acquisitions of Corus & Jaguar Land Rover. He was ridiculed for his idea of the Nano car, but he made it a reality as he sincerely believed in the concept of a small car for the Indian masses.

What is one’s personal motivation to be an authentic leader? It could be external such as recognition or financial rewards or internal such as meaning of life, helping others develop or even a social cause. Authentic leaders are generally led by the internal motivators, but it takes courage and conviction. As a leader responsible for a business and stake holder returns, things do get stressful and it is the authenticity of the leader that helps him/ her maintain equilibrium.

Authentic leaders’ success is a direct result of the success of their teams. There is no achievement greater than leading a team to achieve a goal, with a deep sense of inner satisfaction that is built on empowerment and personal relationships.