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AuthenticityEnduring EdgeImpactLeadership

The Power of Authentic Leadership and A Simple Practice to Harness It

By April 10, 2017 No Comments

The below is written for graduate students in a Spring 2017 Master’s degree class on Leading Change at Johns Hopkins. Enduring Edge is a required textbook for the class.

Dear Students:

If there is one resource the world needs more of today—not just in business but across all segments of society—it is authentic leadership. Yet while “authenticity” permeates discussions on exemplary leadership, it encompasses a wide spectrum of traits and skills. Some experts have even posited “authenticity” as a potential double-edged sword. Their concerns have been echoed by students in this class in prior years:

1. How can I be truly authentic when my values don’t align with the world around me?
2. Sometimes, don’t you just have to “fake it ‘til you make it”? How is that authentic?
3. What if sharing my true thoughts and feelings reveals my weaknesses or negative traits?
4. How do you explain leaders who engage in self-serving, shortsighted or even unethical behavior and yet get ahead?

To explore these questions, let us examine authentic leadership through the lens of the 1D 2D 3D mind framework. As we have discussed, a leader’s state of mind guides his or her behavior.

The 1D 2D 3D Mind in Leadership

A leader driven predominantly by the 1D mind tends to focus on short-term actions and outcomes, one driven by the 2D mind on medium-term metrics and strategy, and one driven by the 3D mind on long-term vision and values. A 1D leader tends to think about him/herself first. A 2D leader often thinks in ego-based or “us” vs. “them” terms. A 3D leader focuses on the greater good.

A 1D leader tends toward reactionary or impulsive leadership driven by emotions such as fear or hunger. A 2D leader engages in strategic or transactional leadership driven by logic and analysis. A 3D leader aspires to visionary or transformational leadership driven by mission and purpose. A 1D leader may be motivated by profits or power, a 2D by other metrics of success such as achievement or prestige, and a 3D leader by the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

The Mind of Authentic Leaders

The secret of authentic leaders—and their enduring power—is that they have learned to harness the strengths of all three states of mind. They are also masters at navigating between them, knowing which to use when. When a sense of urgency is necessary, they tap into the 1D mind to drive action. When goals must be met, they use the 2D mind to plan and execute. Yet, at their core, true leaders are always led by the 3D mind.

Authentic leaders align their thoughts with their words and their words with their actions. They know what they stand for and why. Such integrity gives them the courage of their convictions to speak their mind, even when difficult. They seek sustainable, holistic, inclusive and enduring solutions to challenges. They strive to bring compassion, kindness and understanding to their interactions with others. They earn respect, not through the authority of titles, but through the embodiment of universal virtues and values. Their intentions are always focused on the greater good.

With this in mind, let us revisit the questions above, starting in reverse sequence.

4. How do you explain leaders who engage in self-serving, shortsighted or even unethical behavior and yet get ahead?

While leaders operating out of the 1D or 2D mind may seem to “get ahead” in the short-run, their perceived success often masks failure at a much deeper level. Such leaders may earn approval but their achievements are limited to the 1D and 2D levels. Lacking the guiding values of the 3D mind, they are often left grasping for more. They may chase profits, power or prestige, yet devoid of deeper purpose and mission, restlessly hunger for contentment and meaning. Such leaders may receive wide recognition but they don’t earn deep respect.

The success of authentic leaders may not always be outwardly visible. It resides in striving toward work that makes a true difference, whether for a family, organization or nation. Their impact is palpable where it matters. Such leaders are not just respected. They are loved and become an inspiration for others, often even long after they are gone.

3. What if sharing my true thoughts and feelings reveals my weaknesses or negative traits?

Authentic leaders strive to know themselves. Self-awareness, especially of the weaknesses of each of their three states of mind, empowers them to understand others better as well. True leaders train themselves to regulate the impulsive aspects of their 1D mind and the ego-based aspects of their 2D mind. Examining both with the wisdom and perspective of the 3D mind leads to introspection and fosters humility. Such leaders approach weaknesses, negative traits, and challenges with an open, flexible mind willing to learn and grow. With mindful presence in their thoughts, words, and actions, authentic leaders are vulnerable in a way that encourages growth for themselves and those they lead.

2. Sometimes, don’t you just have to “fake it ‘til you make it”? How is that authentic?

The premise of this phrase is that projecting a behavior can help us make it real. For instance, pretending to be confident when you feel fearful or insecure can increase confidence over time. But since the projection doesn’t reflect your true feelings, is it authentic? We can clarify this by exploring our true intentions.

When we are guided by the 3D mind, “pretend” behaviors are practices that help us become better with the intention of serving a greater purpose. “Faking it” can be inauthentic when a leader uses it to misrepresent the truth, deceive others, or advance 1D or 2D objectives absent 3D mind-based intentions. That can even lead to rationalizing “wrong” behaviors with 1D or 2D justifications. While such “faking it” can appear to work in the short-term, it leads to inner tension and outer friction over time since it masks the deeper failure of not abiding by the 3D mind’s truths.

1. How can I be truly authentic when my values don’t align with the world around me?

To answer this, I invite you to begin with this simple yet powerful practice on writing your leadership manifesto.

In the coming days, find a few hours of quiet time alone. Take a pen and paper and write down the essential core principles that define who you are, what you believe, and how you aspire to lead and be of service to the world. Feel free to let one or more of these questions guide your contemplation:

  • What matters most to you and why? What gives you meaning? A sense of purpose?
  • Which values guide your work and life? Which virtues matter most to you? (Distill each to a handful)
  • What do you believe deep within? How does it shape your life? Your work? You dreams?
  • How will you be of service to the world? How will you matter? How will you lead the way?

Write your manifesto using pen and paper. Doing so will help you think deliberately, and crossed-out words will linger, to be reconsidered. Keep it short: around 250 words. This will help you focus. Don’t overthink it. Write from the heart. Remember, these words are not goals but guideposts. They don’t tell you where to go but guide your way. Share your manifesto with the class. Hang the words on a wall. Put them out there. Calibrate yourself against them. Sometimes you may wander off but, over time, they become an anchor. You begin to lead with them because they represent your deepest truths. And, as they guide your work and life, you bring them into the world.

As we become anchored in the truths emerging from our 3D mind, we embody authenticity. When we notice a misalignment between our values and the world around us, we are empowered to lead change. We assert ourselves even in the face of resistance. We speak with courage and conviction. We navigate conflicts with openness and understanding. We take each step with integrity and clarity, guided by our true intentions.

Returning to the question above, when you sense a clash with the “world around” you—whether that is an individual, a company, a culture, or a community—you have a choice. You can either step further into it to increase your understanding with compassion. Or, you can step out of it with courage, even if an alternate path is not yet clear. With each step, regardless of the direction in which it leads, new insights and paths reveal themselves. And you can step into them with confidence knowing that doing so embodies the enduring power of authentic leadership.

Warmly,
Amita

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