Authentic leadership

Dorothea Stuart, of Toastmasters International, looks at the theme of ‘Authentic Leadership’ and offers savvy business advice for practice managers faced with increasing change in the healthcare sector

Dorothea Stuart

When you look at how you operate at work would you describe yourself as a manager or as a leader? If you run a small practice or team you might well say, ‘I’m both’.  You have day-to-day work that needs to be managed and completed but you also need to guide others toward the future.

So how can you develop as a leader to take your practice forward? How do you weather the storms of change and greater patient demands that every practice manager faces and come through strongly and successfully?

One definition of leadership that stands out for me is from Bill George (successful business leader turned professor). He calls it ‘Authentic Leadership’. It resonates because it’s born from real life experiences, tested by research and easy to sustain in the long-run.  He also firmly believes that anyone can learn to be an authentic leader.

Authentic Leaders

After corporate disasters at companies like Enron and the big banks many questions were raised about leaders and their values. What these organisations lacked were authentic leaders – what Bill George describes as, ‘genuine, moral and character-based leaders’.

He lists the qualities of authentic leaders as: understanding their purpose, practicing solid values, leading with heart, establishing connected relationships, demonstrating self-discipline.

To be a successful leader you need to be your authentic self rather than being a copy-cat. You need to focus on what’s best for the business as a whole not short term, unsustainable profits.

The power of purpose

What became clear in George’s research is that leaders are driven by a very personal sense of purpose that guides their business life. He cites the example of the CEO at Wells Fargo. He was brought up in a small town with limited employment prospects and constant money-worries. His personal story generated his determination to create bank branches where all customers get a friendly welcome and the support they need.

I know a successful IT entrepreneur who, having had a stammer all her life, is now focused on creating a company where everyone communicates openly and powerfully both internally and with their customers and suppliers. Understanding what story is driving you is an important part of your authentic leadership journey. Even negative experiences can be reframed to find, as Bill George calls it, ‘the pearl inside, that represents their authentic selves’.

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Living your values

Everyone has values.  Honesty, integrity and…. As individuals we will have our own unique set of values that are important to us. If you’ve ever found yourself hesitating over a decision, you know that asking, ‘If I were truly living by my values what would I do?’ will provide an answer which you will feel happy with.  Articulating your values – sharing them and practicing what you preach – is a key part of being an authentic leader.

Leading with heart

Many of us have worked in organisation where we felt we were just a cog in the machine; it’s not a good experience and we probably didn’t give our best. Without being slushy, leading with heart means recognising you are working with real people who want to work hard and feel proud of their achievements. Treating them with empathy and understanding is an essential part of authentic leadership. It doesn’t mean avoiding tough decisions but it does mean respecting people and  treating them as individuals.

Creating connected relationships

To be an effective leader you need to create strong, long-term relationships. If you want employees and colleagues to trust you, you need to know them and for them to know you.

Self-discipline and paving the way forward

Maintaining a business and developing it over time requires discipline. No leader can achieve long-term success without consistency of action and purpose.

Being an authentic leader will make your life easier overall – you avoid the discomfort of making decisions that you feel uncomfortable with and you have a compass to guide you.

Psychologists tell us that trying to pretend to be someone we’re not is hard work and emotionally draining so lead your current business and work towards the future with authentic leadership.