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The Bottom Line of Authentic Leadership Character, context and competence By Phil Eastman II Much has been published about authentic leadership. Most of that work focuses solely on the character and self-awareness of the leader. Each is a critical aspect of authentic leadership but alone they fall short. Over my 30 years of coaching and leadership experience, I have identified three components to authentic leadership - character, context and competence. Before exploring each of those components through real life examples, let me establish why you should care about authentic leadership. Authentic leadership leads to a better bottom-line. The relationship between positive leadership and a more engaged workforce is crystal clear. Engaged employees are more productive, flexible and more likely to commit extra effort to the organization, thus improving the bottom-line. Motivated to improve the bottom line, authentic leaders are capable of transparently engaging, motivating and moving their teams to win. Authentic leaders have impeccable character, are experts in their leadership context and have superior leadership competence. Character Leadership is an inside out proposition. Your character determines how you lead. It is because of this reality that authentic leadership is directly tied to character. Even a cursory look through media reports reveals that today’s largest, most dramatic and impactful leadership failures occur when character collapses. Those collapses include misguided values, aggression, arrogance, inconsistent behavior and treating people like assets. Contrast those daily stories of failure with the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His authentic leadership began with a clear set of positive core values that focused on the equitable treatment of people and included a major dose of humility, hope, wisdom and courage. King’s authentic leadership flowed from his character and the moral code by which he lived. That example of authentic leadership carries as much power today as it did in 1963. Context Leadership happens in real time, in a real setting, with real people. Consequently, being an expert in the environment in which you lead is essential to authentic leadership. If you have ever visited a theme park you know the power of context. Theme parks are large, complex and challenging to navigate. Navigation is especially difficult when adrenalin is pumping and emotions are soaring. Picture a child pulling at her parents’ arms to see the next attraction or character, so excited she can barely contain herself. In that situation, it is necessary to periodically consult your theme park map to determine where you are in relationship to where you want to be. Context in authentic leadership means setting direction, focusing on diversity, understanding your industry, studying your organization’s history, appreciating its geographic location and being in touch with its culture. The importance of context in authentic leadership was illustrated in one of the largest acquisitions ever undertaken in the grocery industry. Coming off decades of growth in 1998, Albertson’s leadership team arranged to make a nearly 12 billion-dollar acquisition of the American Stores. The strategic decision was sound, but the integration was fatally flawed. As the integration of the two companies struggled, the existing leadership exited and a new leader, whose entire professional experience was with GE, was brought in to rescue Albertsons. Larry Johnston was arguably one of GE’s most successful executives and appeared to be the right person to turn Albertsons around. Unfortunately, Larry’s leadership approach, though highly successful at GE, was not a fit for the grocery chain. His institution of new disciplines and approaches was out of context and unsuccessful. He was shown the door and Albertson’s was subsequently sold. Authentic leaders are experts in the context in which they operate. Competence I was recently advising a client facing a difficult situation with an employee who is well thought of, but is not fully capable of doing the job. Throughout the course of conversation we talked about the difficulty in trusting someone that is not capable. The same is true of a leader. Trust is tied directly to your level of leadership competence. Authentic leaders demonstrate superior competency in communication, problem solving, accountability as well as strategic and integrated thinking. To put authentic leadership to work we use a checklist. Why a checklist? A checklist is a set of non-negotiable items that true professionals don’t leave to chance. Every leadership situation has a myriad of considerations, nearly impossible for any leader to recall without help. A checklist is the easiest way to consistently apply authentic leadership to improve of your bottom-line. LE Phil Eastman II is the creator of the Authentic Leadership Checklist™. He is the Principal Advisor at Leadership Advisors Group and the author of The Character of Leadership: An Ancient Model for a Quantum Age as well as Dimensional Strategy: A Leader’s Guide to Building a Strategic Plan. Visit www.leadershipadvisors.com Email phil@leadershipadvisors.com leadership excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 04.2014 42


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