Authentic Leaders: Nature or Nurture

Over the last few months, I’ve introduced research regarding how a certain breed of leadership drives business performance and creates a culture of trust. So, naturally the question of whether Authentic Leaders are born or evolve is a logical question to explore.

The answer may surprise you.

After being promoted to my first management job decades ago, a mentor shared a powerful book entitled “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way” by Jim Lundy.

Anchored to the fallacy that leaders resided only at the top of the organization, I did not consider myself a leader, even though I was responsible for managing a front-line staff of five. Lundy quickly challenged this assumption in the opening chapters and highlighted that leaders existed at all levels of a company, including and especially the front line. I was hooked and willingly embraced my role as a leader.

Soon after, I discovered innate leadership skills that enabled me to positively impact my team’s success. No one had to train me how to lead; for some odd reason, I just knew how to drive results.

The truth is, I was a natural leader, but I wasn’t an authentic leader. Although my team worked hard and achieved results, they did so only when I was as present and driving success. As a result, performance could not be sustained.

In retrospect, I’ve come to believe most influential leaders are born with certain innate skills that set them apart, including a winning mindset and a contagious drive. They tend to naturally create winning teams.

However, an Authentic Leader is more than that. They have an everlasting impact on company performance, as teams will continue to perform even when the leader isn’t driving results.

Authentic Leaders awaken the performance and potential of individuals and connect it to the overall team’s goals and vision, thereby establishing a high performing unit. This alignment of individual goals with team goals, combined with the passion and engagement of the team, not only fosters team success but ignites change organization-wide. The result is trust: Trust in the leader, trust in the organization and trust that winning is real.

Whereas a natural leader may be born with innate leadership skills, to be an Authentic Leader requires introspection and a strong commitment to self-improvement. It takes inner work that not everyone is willing to do.

Therefore, Authentic Leaders are not born that way. We BECOME an Authentic Leader.

As a result of this becoming, our team believes in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, which is followed by increasing levels of emotional involvement in their work (i.e. engagement).

Engagement creates ownership. Ownership drives continuous and sustained individual and team performance. Performance drives everlasting business results.

As I noted last month, Authentic Leaders embody three distinct principles, which build trust and inspire performance:

  • They assume positive intent.
  • They see relationships as a “value exchange” rather than win-lose, give-take.
  • They are ruthlessly committed to self-improvement.

Remember, Authentic Leaders are not born that way and must do the work to expand their own capacity for authenticity. They become more authentic as they adhere to the principles above, and as their authenticity expands, so does their impact.

And that’s where the nurture comes in. Although much of what we perceive as leadership is innate, truly authentic leaders are nurtured by mentors and developed through their own quest for personal excellence. They BECOME more authentic as they strive to BE MORE.

It is this becoming that sets them apart. Next month, I’ll share the five performance attributes for attracting and developing authentic leaders.


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