Who ARE you?

This is a good question for people interested in being a good leader because the first mistake some people make is to try to be someone else.

It is well over ten years since Professor Gareth Jones (then with London Business School and doing a lot of work with us at PwC) introduced me to the idea of Authentic Leadership. It struck a chord then and it still does now. As my career has developed I would say that being authentic has become the most fundamental requirement of a successful leader. Looked at the other way around those who are inauthentic are usually the worst.

What does it mean to be authentic in this context? It means being true to yourself and your core values. For me that includes honesty, openness and integrity and I play to those strengths. It also means being self aware, recognising what you are less good at and not trying to be something you aren’t. The complexity of the modern world means that no one can be a super-hero and do everything. The most effective leaders know themselves, do what they are good at and surround themselves with other authentic people who provide complementary skills, views and ideas.

Authenticity is actually a lot easier than trying to be what you’re not as you just have to be yourself! People are generally good at spotting inauthenticity and don’t like working for dishonest (including those who unnecessary conceal the truth), closed/hard to read or unethical leaders. Authenticity works because it is a good basis for building trust, that most valuable intangible commodity without which nothing functions well.

So because honesty is a core value for me I will honest about my mistakes, share information as widely as possible and be open about how I feel equally to everybody regardless of seniority.

This has worked well for me in particular when there is bad news, for example when results are bad or there are going to be job losses. Just as good leadership is about bringing clarity, sometimes it means being honest about uncertainty. When times are difficult people worry and to get through it helps them to know that leader understands and hears their concerns – even if there aren’t immediate answers. Sometimes it’s just reassuring to know that it isn’t only you that’s worried and the leader cares about you and is human too.

Being honest and open can be worrying at first because you have to trust a lot of people you don’t really know but it’s worked for me. Being authentic forced me in that direction and I’m pleased it did. Over the years I’ve seen many leaders attempt to withhold the truth and treat people as if they are children and/or stupid. It doesn’t work. It never did – as the old adage goes you can’t fool all the people all of the time. With modern technology supercharging traditional office gossip, nowadays it’s even hard to fool some of the people some of the time!

So that’s how authenticity has influenced me. It won’t be the same for everyone as we are all different. So think about what your authentic self is and bring it to work. The others will probably like it!

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