How to Craft Your Authentic Leadership Style
By Gretchen Hoffman, WCL Board Member
Jack Welch’s management skills while at GE in the 1980s are the stuff of legend. Over the 20 years of his tenure, the company went from a market value of $14 billion to more than $410 billion, making it the most valuable company in the world at the time of his retirement. Much of this success is attributed to Welch himself: He gave managers free reign as long as they followed the GE ethic of constant change and ran the business more like a small, agile company than the largest global corporation. Fortune named him the "Manager of the Century" in 1999 and the Financial Times shortly thereafter named him one of the three most admired business leaders in the world today.
There was a downside to his charismatic authority, however, as employees’ allegiance to Welch shaped the perception of the skills and personality needed to run a large corporation.
“Everyone wanted to be like Jack,” said Amgen CEO and president Kevin Sharer, who worked as Welch’s assistant at GE in the 1980s. “Leadership has many voices. You need to be who you are, not try to emulate somebody else.”
Leadership researchers have conducted thousands of studies over the last several decades, but not one was able to produce a clear profile of the ideal leader’s styles, characteristics or personality. What works for one leader fails for another, because people trust (and follow) leaders when they are genuine and authentic. As the Harvard Business Review declared in January 2015, “authenticity has emerged as the gold standard for leadership.”
So, with your ideal leadership style unique to you, where do you start to define and develop it? Here’s how:
· Look inward. Leadership emerges from your life story. In Total Leadership, author Stewart D. Friedman encourages leaders to take part in an exercise: Write down the critical events in your past and how they’ve shaped your values, then identify the impact you imagine you’re having on the world fifteen years from now – your personal leadership vision.
“Effective leaders use their imaginations to connect the actual stories of their pasts with the hoped-for stories of their futures,” Friedman says.
· Get feedback from others. Feedback can come in many forms – 360-degree assessments, personality assessments like the DiSC profile, or simply conversations with people who know you well. Authentic leaders build support teams that are able to provide counsel and serve as a sounding board for challenges, and these teams can be used to gather feedback about your strengths as a leader and your ability to lead in accordance with your values. This support can be formal or informal, via a mentor, trusted friend or family member or even a personal board of directors.
· Play on your strengths. Gallup founds that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.
“Being able to identify your strengths is a valuable tool-- especially when it comes to leadership,” executive coach Trang Chu wrote in Forbes. “Successful leaders spend most of their time developing their strengths and applying them in the workplace while simultaneously managing their weaknesses.”
· Commit to lifelong development of your authentic leadership style. Leadership is developed, not born. Be an avid reader of leadership literature and listen to podcasts and interviews with the most successful authentic leaders. Map out a short-term plan for your leadership development in addition to a long-term one, and hold yourself accountable.
· Lastly, lead with your heart.
“An authentic leader is someone who is genuine and true to what they believe in,” Bill George, retired CEO of Medtronic, told Harvard Business Review. “They understand the purpose of leadership, they lead with very consistent values, and with their heart, as well as their head. They have courage, compassion, empathy– qualities like that– and they build long-term connected relationships. And they have the personal self-discipline to deliver extraordinary results from their teams.”