Authentic Leadership In Action

Authenticity means that people believe what they say. Integrity means that they do what they say they will do, and for the reasons they stated to begin with. Authenticity and integrity link the head and the heart, the words and the action; they separate belief from disbelief, and often make the difference between success and failure. Many people in organizations lament how their "leaders" lack authenticity and integrity. When that feeling is prevalent, trust cannot develop, and optimal results are difficult if not impossible to achieve.

Integrity is the melding of ethics and values into action. Individuals who display this quality operate off a core set of beliefs that gain admiration from others. As a leader, integrity is critical for success. It is necessary if leaders wish to obtain wholehearted support from followers.

Integrity is the most difficult—and the most important—value a leader can demonstrate. Integrity is revealed slowly, day-by-day, in word and deed. Actions that compromise a leader's integrity often have swift and profound repercussions. Every leader is in the "spotlight" of those they lead. As a result, shortcomings in integrity are readily apparent.

How do you create an environment that achieves results, trust, and learning instead of undermining them? One can observe many examples of "organizational perversities," most often caused by leaders who are not authentic and who demonstrate lack of integrity. Demonstrating these values in action often makes the difference between success and failure. People generally will work anytime and follow anywhere a person who leads with authenticity and integrity.

It becomes painfully evident when team members sense discord between what they and their leaders believe is important. Energy levels drop, and productive work either ceases or slows down.

These managers display aspects of a common challenge—becoming a victim of the measurement and reward system. The axiom goes: "Show me how people are measured and I'll show you how they behave." People have inner voices that reflect values and beliefs that lead to authenticity and integrity. They also experience external pressures to get results. The test for a true leader is to balance the internal with external pressures and to demonstrate truthfulness so that all concerned come to believe in the direction chosen.

Measurement systems need to reflect authentically on the values and guiding principles of the organization. Forced or misguided metrics do more harm than good.

In order to get people working collaboratively in a political environment, consider ways for them to receive more value from this effort: the project provides means to meet organizational needs; they have more fun; the experience is stimulating; they get more help and assistance when needed; they get constructive feedback; they are excited by the vision; they learn more from this project; their professional needs are met; they travel and meet people; it's good for their careers; together they'll accomplish more than separately; this is neat. . .

Ways to demonstrate authentic leadership in action:

►Say what you believe. ►Act on what you say. ►Avoid "integrity crimes."

►Involve team members in designing strategic implementation plans.

►Align values, projects, and organizational goals through asking questions, listening, and using an explicit process to link all actions to strategic goals.

►Foster an environment in which project teams can succeed by learning together and operating in a trusting, open organization.

►Develop the skill of "organizational awareness"—the ability to read the currents of emotions and political realities in groups. This is a competence vital to the behind-the-scenes networking and coalition building that allows individuals to wield influence, no matter what their professional role. Tap the energy that comes from acting upon the courage of convictions . . . from doing the right thing . . . and from being prepared.

For example, a contractor came to the project manager's desk, made demands about resources on the project, and left. This was out-of-character, for the two people had formed a close relationship. The project manager decided not to act on the critical demands that could have severe negative impact on project relations. Later he sought out the contractor and found him in a different mood. The contractor confessed he was told by his company to make those demands. By correctly reading the emotional state and assessing that something below the surface was going on in that transaction, the project manager was able to work with the other person, keep the issue from escalating, and find a solution.

Leaders who commit "integrity crimes," shift the burden away from a fundamental solution to their personal effectiveness. Trust cannot develop under these conditions. Leaders either get into problems or else tap the energy and loyalty of others to succeed.

In systems thinking terms, this is a classic example of a "shifting the burden" archetype, in which a short-term fix actually undermines a leader's ability to take action at a more fundamental level. The causal loop in Figure 27-4 depicts how many project leaders proceed when under pressure to get results. The quick fix (in balancing loop B1) is to resort to a command and control approach, which on a surface level appears to lessen the pressure. This has an opposite effect on the people they want to influence or persuade (in reinforcing loop R3). These people do not do their best work so more pressure is felt to get results.

A more fundamental solution is to develop skills of persuasion as practiced by a change agent (in balancing loop B2). Help people come to believe in the vision and mission and aid them to figure out why it is in their best interest to put their best work into

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