If each of us were asked to reflect on an impactful or influential leader in our lives, we are probably able to identify one or two. Unfortunately, it is far easier to identify those leaders that have had a negative impact or have had their own self-interest at heart. Recently, I have begun to dive deeply into the concept of ‘Authentic Leadership’ and it’s a really straightforward approach in helping leaders to become genuine, servant-hearted, and outward-focused human beings. It develops leaders that can look at and inspire those people around them because of their authenticity.
Working alongside a countless number of schools and organisations over the last 8 years, I truly believe that we have taken leadership and put it in a box and reserved it for people who wear a badge or have a title or for when I’m finally in charge… It’s time for us to unbox leadership and make it commonplace in everyday situations and we can do this through Authentic Leadership. This will allow us to encourage and grow a leadership mindset that helps us to think about what we can do on behalf of others.
When we approach leadership through the lens of the everyday ways, we influence (because we all influence in some capacity) and this gives us the ability to start building everyone’s wellbeing, leadership capacity, empathy, and skillsets no matter the position they find themselves in. Leadership doesn’t have to be a dirty word, in fact, it can be positive and empowering for self and others.
So, if it’s actually possible to grow leaders and develop a suite of wellbeing outcomes at the same time, then surely that is a model for success. I want to present a model of leadership that is accessible for all, can be embodied by your school or organisation, and will get greater outcomes due to the focus on others.
WHAT IS AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP?
The word ‘Authentic’ comes from Greek and it means “to thine own self be true”. For us to discover the heart of outstanding leadership, we need to bring leading back to the roots of who we are and what we stand for as human beings. Ultimately, we are innately searching for leaders who show their true selves and whose motivations are genuinely for others.
This model that we, at Burn Bright, have developed is what we believe are the key elements of ‘Authentic Leadership’.
This model predicates that self-awareness is the foundation of leadership and is often thought of as the key to eudaemonic wellbeing. When leaders start with a foundation of self-awareness for who they are and know their strengths, the remaining stages come much easier.
When we think about great leaders through history, we think of the ones that have a compelling vision for the future. When we see that or experience that vision, we only see the tip of the iceberg of the leader’s journey. For a leader to have a clear vision for the future they must transcend the other levels, beginning with self-awareness. A vision for the future is of no use if the leader is not sure of who they are, how they lead, and what they stand for.
Whilst it is not feasible to explore every level of this model in this post (they could each be a post within themselves), I want to focus on the power of service for others. Albert Einstein once said that ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile’. As leaders we don’t want to get caught in a complete focus on self, rather use a focus on self to establish exactly how we can use our strengths and values to help others grow and serve them in their development. A mindset of “others first” is not only helpful for others but also has been proven to increase our own levels of wellbeing.
What I believe is powerful about this model is that if you removed the word leadership from it and viewed it entirely through a wellbeing lens, it would be just as appropriate. The magnificent thing is that leadership and wellbeing don’t have to exist as separate dichotomies but exist symbiotically for the growth and development of all human beings.
AN AUTHENTIC LEADERS MINDSET
Given that the foundation for Authentic Leadership is self-awareness, we must start there with practices such as mindfulness, deliberate coaching from others, taking some time for self-reflection, and focusing on our character strengths. A focus on these areas brings about emotional regulation and self-control that allows a clear leadership focus.
Above this focus, an Authentic Leader acts from their values and practices ‘unbiased processing’ whereby they deliberately attempt to take information and look at it objectively without bias or prejudice. Approaching decision-making with integrity and character not only has an impact on outcomes but can also impact those we are leading because of our consistency, clarity, and respect.
An Authentic Leader builds genuine relationships with those around them and not out of self-interest. They build from a mindset of serving others. A leader strives for openness and truthfulness in their relationships which develops trust and understanding. This unconditional trust is then reinforced by the leader’s genuine behaviour with others and within these relationships.
Authentic Leadership is a powerful mindset and framework to not only grow and develop future leaders but to analyse our own leadership now. If we want to get the best out of the people around us and make an impact in the world, this is a powerful way to do it. Ultimately Authentic Leaders are confident and hopeful for the future, they are resilient, gritty, and ethical and they make the growth of others their priority.
If you want to learn more about how we put our Authentic Leadership model into practice, take a look at our leadership camps for young people and how we build environments where young people step into their authentic leadership.