Great leaders are in short supply. Beware of imitations; they are on sale everywhere and at bargain prices too. Wherever great leaders show up they define the season, the climate and the history. So what makes a great leader? The answer, I believe, is found in the authenticity of the person. It’s not found in technique, qualification, or experience although these things can be great add-ons.
Today, we are suffering from hurry sickness and from the corner-cutting quick fix. There is no such thing as a quick fix. Becoming a person of authenticity is a life-long commitment – no short cuts, no days off. Here’s some things I’ve noticed about authentic leaders.
Authentic leaders are not trying to look good: They are secure in who they are and know the contributions that they bring. They build the climate, set the tone and are deeply concerned for the welfare of those they lead. They are not in the business of looking good. But neither are they content to just work the system; no, they seek to change it or create it. They are prepared to risk short-term unpopularity in pursuit of that greater dream. They are not dependent on the approval of others for their self-worth but neither are they unconnected from their followers. Something within them burns for that greater dream.
Authentic leaders play for the long-term: They know the power of the compass and usefulness of the map. The compass sets the direction, the map the detail. In life we need both, but the authentic leader knows which to use and when. They know themselves; they are self-aware, knowing their strengths and the site of their limitations. Self-aware leaders are not ashamed of their limitations but they use that knowledge to find others who are strong where they are weak. Every leader needs headroom and a clear space to work. They thrive on building, creating space and offering their creation to others to work with.
Authentic leaders create the climate: These leaders know the importance of being climate creators. When they engage with people they set the weather. Their weather is infectious; always uplifting, encouraging and has high influence on others. They are in the business of creating the environment in which others will thrive. And they know that this climate fosters great individual and organisational behaviour. It is the leadership climate that fathers the working culture. That’s why your people become like you – you infect them with who you are.
Authentic leaders seek the welfare of team members: They don’t talk ‘me’, they don’t criticise others, and they don’t prattle on. Instead they give their attention to others, talk with their eyes, and affirm through gestures and actions. They operate through personal openness offering themselves ahead of knowledge or experience; this is how they offer their support and they are loved because of it. This kind of leadership is called ’emotionally intelligent’ leadership (EQ) and is now credited as a far better predictor of authentic leadership than IQ. Emotionally intelligent leaders care for their teams.
Authentic leaders create authentic followers: No one is a leader who does not create a following. And the simple truth is that the followers will behave like the leader. It’s an awesome truth, yet powerful. Be the person you want others to be; be yourself, be the light and others will follow. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Jesus the authentic leader birthed authentic followers and still does today.
Finally, authentic leaders attract a following because of their character. They are humble, have a tested integrity, and are accessible socially and emotionally to others. As I have grown older I have understood that my leadership impact is defined by these things so much more than stellar performances. Yes, I want to leave a legacy and I want it to begin before I am no more. Our epitaphs are decided by others – compressed summaries of our lives inspired by who we really are in the eyes of others. Enoch ‘walked with God’, Simeon was ‘just and devout’ and Barnabas was said to be a ‘son of encouragement’. Great leaders breed great leaders. Live your legacy today.