What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership isn't a style. It's a stage of maturity and growth. Authentic leadership is where power and love intersect. Power and use of power are familiar concepts in business and the defining power as control, authority, capacity and influence is more than likely readily understandable and accessible. Love is a different story.

When I talk about love, I am not talking about the feelings shared between parents and children, friends or even lovers. I am talking the concept of love as expressed in Greek as agape which relates more to service and esteem.

Sources of power can be internal or external. Focuses of love can be internal or external. How these relate to one another result in one of four leadership styles:

  • External source of power and internal focus of love: Alliance Leadership. This style of leadership is about who you know and where you work. Power comes by association with powerful people. Your boss becomes very important to you as you seek to gain what you want by pleasing the right people.
  • External source of power and external focus of love: Authoritarian Leadership. This style of leadership is command and control. These leaders are very connected to their titles, office size and location, money and other symbols of power. They accomplish through others.
  • Internal source of power and internal focus of love: Reflective Leadership. These leaders start to realize that Authoritarian leadership only works until it stops working. They become reflective and search for integrity and wholeness. They are in an intentional process of finding congruence between internal actions and internal reflections. Their organizational strength is based on their competence and burgeoning self-awareness.
  • Internal source of power and external focus of love: Authentic Leadership. These leaders possess the paradoxical blend of humility and channel whatever ego and drive they have into the good of other and radically serving others. They have a purpose beyond themselves. They are settled in their own skin and can radically support the empowerment of others.
How to Apply This Model With Your Clients:
  1. When they ask for your help with enhancing their leaders' performance - focus less on changing behaviors and more on the thinking and values behind the behaviors. How a leader uses their power and gets their sense of self-worth defines ultimately how they will treat employees and customers.
  2. Encourage leaders to self-reflect in equal measure to what they accomplish. It's in the balance of contemplation and action that authentic power is cultivated.
  3. Challenge the short-term profit obsession that has taken over all organizations (for profit and nonprofit alike.) Help your clients consider their whole system and long-term implications when making decisions.
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