Authentic leadership

As a leader, how do I reconcile the need to be authentic with the concept that “perception is reality”?

Recently I witnessed a really messed-up situation. Someone I respect and admire very much is being punished because a person in the community had a certain perception of my friend’s actions. I saw my friend’s actions as noble. Honest. Authentic. But someone saw it differently. Someone who has no idea of the depth and breadth of my friend’s positive impact on her community.

But it seems to be true… “Perception is reality.”

So I’m stuck. Authenticity vs. Faking It To Fit In. “Being real” vs. “Attempting to execute a favorable impression.”

Well… what IS authentic leadership? And how do I get it?

“Avolio et al. (2004) defined authentic leaders as those individuals who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspective, knowledge, and strength; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and high on moral character.” (Karin Klenke, 2007. Authentic Leadership: A Self, Leader, and Spiritual Identity Perspective. Leadership Development Institute (LDI) International)

I think that describes my friend very well. Yet she’s paying a price for speaking up.

Is this my idealistic bubble being popped? You know… the one that protects my belief that if I’m courageous, honest, hard-working, and helpful, I won’t get thrown under the bus?

As a musician and composer, of course I can see that working hard doesn’t guarantee an increase in music-based profits. Nor does having talent, skill, nor connections. (Though they help.)

But the payoff to being real in one’s music is that you get to be real. Maybe it’s the same for authentic leadership? Maybe there’s no distinction?

What do you think, Gentle Reader? To what degree do you say “screw what others think”, and to what degree (honestly, now!) do you censor yourself according to the context of the situation? And how does this play out in your art?



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6 responses to “Authentic leadership

  1. Texas J

    I think the definition you posted is right on. You should go back and read it again to answer your questions. I believe that being an authentic leader almost guarantees that you will be thrown under the bus. Isn’t that the point of being a leader, to be prepared and willing to be thrown under the bus? “The captain of the ship often has to make unpopular choices”, if he/she is a true leader, and not a politician. Concerning art one has to be aware of the moral and perceptual taste of recipients, or potential recipients of the artists medium. Basically as an artist you are an entertainer. If you are sitting on the side of the road with a guitar case playing and I like what you are playing, I will put money in your case. If I don’t I will pass you by. If I love what you are doing I will put a lot of money in your case. If I think you are the next coming of the musical messiah (chosen one), I will do my best to get you to a bigger and bigger audience. So we are really comparing apples and oranges, unless you are a musician with an ego-maniacal complex and think that you can just present whatever and it will be so great that people will beat down your door to follow you no matter what rubbish you produce. Like some “leaders” (politicians) do.

    • But what about the option of simply doing your art without regard to what anyone thinks? And following the deepest call within one’s own heart? Not worrying about followers, money, fame, etc?

  2. Texas J

    Full disclosure is not always the wisest path, nor most responsible. Therefore we all must censor ourselves from time to time.

  3. texas j

    that of course is always an option unless you have a constituency that you represent.

  4. Thank you for your sincere questions about this dilemma Tim. I recognise it fully, not being in art, but as a business owner and former corporate HRM. Authentic or faking it to fit in. I think it’s a struggle for many people. When we look at the definition of authentic leadership, it seems the trade off is less painful. It’s more about gently being aware of yourself ánd others, aware of the environment, and being confident & joyful, choosing your action out of your morale character. It seems to me that when we let go of our desire to get something from others (like love, approval and recognition), and instead love ourselves and them and act out of this, we can be ourselves (which is love), make great music and tough our own and others hearts.

    • Thank you for so beautifully articulating what I could not. Your insights are very helpful. Letting go of the desire to get anything from others really DOES seem to be the key to happiness in my life. For so long, I’ve had emotional ulterior motives… trying to get acceptance, love, recognition, etc. from others. But when I’m happy, whole, and complete with myself, suddenly it’s a lot easier to create art for my own joy. There’s really no need for me to ask for validation from others (an old habit I’m still engaging in… but now I can change). In leadership, perhaps I can be open to feedback (inviting it often from my team members) without feeling that without it I’m not whole.

      Thank you again!

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