‘Authentic’ leadership is a load of rubbish!

Pleeeeeez!… If it’s genuine why headline it?  It will speak for itself.  You don’t have to do or be certain things to be ‘authentic’.  You just are!  So, with sceptical mind, I went to a conference workshop this week  entitled ‘Developing Authentic Leadership’.

To be honest, I think I went for a fight. I think I went anticipating the same old same old ideas and formulae that I could challenge and kick at.

Ian Roberts from The Thinking Partnership started with a declaration his piece wasn’t in traditional workshop style.  People were free to make comments and ask questions (so could learn from each other anyway) but he wasn’t into a traditional workshop… Or, it transpired, a traditional anything else!

Instead, he launched into several stories which showed how fake most of which goes by the name of authenticity is in our culture.  And how it’s often seen in self leadership as finding your ‘essence’ in a narcissistic way, abandoning relationships, home, work, whatever and looking for some magical fit some mystery somewhere else.

I loved it!  He was talking stuff  in my upcoming book, albeit with a different approach and a different language.  There were a few minor points where I disagreed but, hey, at core, he and I are absolutely on the same wave length,

Some other ‘coaches’ in the large audience most certainly didn’t love it!

They expressed disappointment his ‘workshop’ wasn’t in the traditional formula.  They said they were confused… always a good sign indicating old ideas are breaking down and new ones in the process of forming.

They commented on how his manner had created a negative emotional reaction in them (so much for response-ability!).  They expressed feelings mostly of anger or frustration, some of feeling insulted by his approach.  And some verged on being personally attacking.

Never mind their palpable high levels of anxiety on having their expectations of the workshop and their beliefs about authentic leadership challenged big time!

And, if they didn’t comment, a large number of them just got up and left.

These were coaches!  These were people to whom other people entrust their precious selves for growth.  Yet they couldn’t sit with their own discomfort, dislike, diagreement, inner conflict or whatever else was going on for them.  So, how on earth are they going to be able to sit with that of their clients when at a growing edge???

Found a great quotation from Einstein.  ‘If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.’

Now, I don’t believe there’s one essential truth… Ian was outlining ‘the’ truth from his perspective.  And he wasn’t elegant.  He gave it straight from the shoulder.  He responded to comments and questions, however uncomfortable, very much in the moment, present, standing in his own ground, saying it how it was for him…

He was modelling authentic leadership, what I call Inner Leadership!… Being aware of the other person’s position and feelings, being aware of his own reactions, which he later used as teaching points, and choosing neither to be defiant or compliant about the criticism but to respond honestly in the moment as best he could.

What a fabulous, fabulous opportunity for learning!

If you enjoy challenging yourself to become even more of who you are, click here to sign up for my fortnightly Inner Leadership Briefing and your exclusive report to find purpose at work right now!

24 Responses to “‘Authentic’ leadership is a load of rubbish!”

  1. Lise Moen says:

    Sharon : I so wish I had been there. Sounds like a fabolous experience for those who were willing to engage and have the courage to stay with their own ‘new frontiers’.

    It continous to suprise me how many are unwilling to own “what’s happening for me now” is…and would perfer to pin it onto something else, someone else.

    It continues to suprise and delight me when I wake up from any of my Snow White moments and own “what’s happening for me” is…and I find it is such a truly humbling experience and wonderfully core to my own evolution as a human being. Namely, learning to be authentic in life, in my work, and in my relationships.

    It’s great to hear others are equally passionate about authenticity and work actively to walk their own talk.


  2. Wally Bock says:

    Sounds like you had great fun, Sharon. Here are a C of thoughts in response to your post.

    Traditional workshops are mostly based on the technical training model and assume that all the wisdom resides in the presenter. There are two problems with that. First, on most topics, wisdom is usually spread around the room, albeit unevenly. And two, even if the subject is one where the speaker really does know lots more, most adults don’t learn well in “lecture” formats.

    Moving on. I with that terms like “authentic” leadership would go away, but I don’t hold out much hope of that happening. For me anything that treats leadership as an exalted calling points us in the wrong direction.

    Leadership is a kind of work. So are management and supervision. One is not more important than the others. All of them are necessary. Every boss in the world gets to mix them together because that’s what the job demands.

    But we don’t talk about “authentic” management or supervision. We don’t use words like “true” or “genuine” for them either.

    The reason has roots in one of the classic works on leadership, James MacGregor Burns seminal work. In that book Burns, for the first time to my knowledge, describes leadership as something with positive moral value.

    I disagree. Leadership is a kind of work. Like other kinds of work it can result in good things or bad things. And the debate about what’s true and “genuine” and “authentic” takes up time and brainpower we can use to learn to do it better.

  3. Sharon Eden says:

    Thank you, Lise, for your valuable comments. And I love your metaphor of ‘Snow White’ moments for when we’re lost in one of our trances and not being authentic!

  4. Sharon Eden says:

    When I finished reading your comment, Wally, the word ‘Soooperb!’ poured out of my mouth.

    Thank you for all your points, and particularly for emphasising leadership is just ‘a kind of work’ like any other. And, for me, inner leadership, the development of your self, takes prime place, so that we might serve ourselves and others better, whatever our work.

  5. Hi Sharon -sounds as if it was indeed a fun for you and a interesting learning curve.In any experience people prefer situations which make them feel comfortable and secure, whether it’s workshop formating, delivery style or content.

    The people who left should clearly think about what it was that bothered them most and why they reacted in that way. Leaving is pretty extreme.

    But equally the speaker will perhaps reflect on how he can deliver his thoughts so that more people actually listen and he can be heard, without compromising his message of course.

    One very consistent leadership thread is about constructive communication and that can be a learned skill as well as an innate talent. My experience of excellent communicators ( and most strong leaders are) is that they generally have ( but not always) a high level of self insight, which allows them the flexibility and empathy to connect with their audience – somehow.

    Glad it was such a positive experience for you!

  6. Sharon Eden says:

    Thanks, Dorothy, for your valuable points. In a corporate situation, I agree his approach wouldn’t go down well at all… and wouldn’t be appropriate!

    And, with a lecture hall full of coaches entrusted with other people’s development, a provocative training approach was refreshing. Particularly as my experience of coaches is that many, many haven’t down much personal work on themselves.

    How they responded was, of course, their ‘stuff’. One colleague told me it left him untouched. But for those who felt that discomfort, who knows what learning might emerge for them over the days, weeks and even months ahead… having had the iron filings thrown up in the air and the magnet taken away!

  7. Monica Diaz says:

    There’s a place for the word “authentic”, I believe, when we speak of leadership. It has to do with bringing who YOU are into the task, as opposed to trying to be the “perfect” leader, or any other brand of leader for that matter. People who are true to themselves and open to others get everything right. When they are boss, or collaborator, or parent, or friend. They stand up for who they are, without the need to discredit others. It is still a rare occurrence in positions of power, and especially in up-and-coming bosses. So, whatever we call it, we need to keep at it! Your remark on the attitude of coaches, though, mirrors my experience. Self-righteous coaches who make themselves out to be owners of the truth HATE being challenged and LOVE telling others what to do (hopefully without having to do it themselves). This is a sad situation indeed, since you can be more of service to others if you are willing to challenge yourself, live through discomfort and choose your points of view from a place of open exploration, instead of blind certainty.

  8. Alun Jones says:

    Sharon, that’s brilliant! I totally understand where you’re coming from when you talk about this. Never mind as coaches, as human beings wen need to respect other people’s truth as they see it. We don’t all live in the same world or have the same model. But that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from others. I find that so many coaches believe that “their way is the best way” and for them it probably is. But all ways need constant evaluation and development – we learn from our clients as much as we learn from our teachers is my belief.

    I also agree with your point about taking responsibility for where we are and our reactions – I wrote a blog about that recently. We cannot keep blaming other people for how we feel – no one can force us to think or feel anything unless we choose to.

    It does sound like Ian was being Authentic in terms of himself and his model of the world and sticking by it. Listening to others points of view and responding, in an authentic and direct way. I think too often we shudder away from telling the Truth (as we see it) to others because we fear their reaction and fear we might be wrong or ridiculed. It’s time to stand in our Light and Speak our Truth from a place of authenticity and unconditional love (sorry I know that’s probably a bit Love and Light, but it’s not meant to be all gushy and soft!).

    Anyway – I’ll shut up now… great article, Sharon! I’m envious I didn’t go with you!
    Alun :)

  9. Sharon Eden says:

    Hi Monica… Thanks for your great contribution to the discussion. Sad that your experience of ‘self-righteous’ coaches matches mine. And I know you, like me, are the spreading the word about growing ourselves first and foremost to better serve others.

  10. Sharon Eden says:

    Alun, I love what you say about we can fear speaking our truth for fear of ridicule or being wrong and so not speak out. Ian certainly modelled the courage to do so for me and inspired me to be even more challenging at times when it’s the way to go. And with ‘unconditional love’… not Love and Light at all. If our intention is loving one way or another our message will get heard!

  11. Alun Jones says:

    Thanks Sharon :) It can be challenging at times to speak our truth, but slowly we get there… I think sometimes we to challenge others to help them find their own truth. I also agree with your last point too… when we speak from a place of unconditional love the message will get through on some level :)

  12. Thought you would like this!

    ” I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” ~ Dudley Field Malone

    Perhaps the people who left that workshop will have reflected by now!

  13. Sharon Eden says:

    Great quotation that’s spot on! Thank you Dorothy :)

  14. Sharon Eden says:

    You bet, Alun! Let’s keep doing it…

  15. Andrea Brown says:

    “Be the best, but get prepared to be attacked. Only mediocrity is safe”
    Paulo Coelho

  16. Sharon Eden says:

    Brilliant quotation, Andrea… Thank you!

  17. Jo says:

    I love how you say it as it is! How refreshing! Wish I had been there!

  18. Irene Brankin says:

    Well, what a great workshop even without what the speaker was putting across! All that energy and stirred up feelings in the room – wonderful. Maybe not quite the response Ian was expecting and he did it. He came from his own opinion and experience and isn’t that all we can do. I know for me when I look back I can see I lose myself when I TRY to be authentic – I was not being myself at all – only what I thought I should be!!
    It was good you were in the room and demonstrating your support for authenticity. Isn’t life just great giving us all this learning.
    Keep up your good work, Sharon, you are needed.

  19. Sharon Eden says:

    Thanks for your comments, support and honesty, Irene. Much appreciated.

  20. Sharon Eden says:

    Thanks Jo!

  21. Sharon Eden says:

    Love the quotation Dorothy… It’s now in my favourites. Thank you!

  22. Dave Brand says:

    Sharon, thanks for sharing your experience at this workshop. It is great when you have an opportunity to have your thoughts and perspectives stretched through conversation and dialogue. Over the years I have grown to value more and more the value of diversity of thought and nurturing an environment where respectful dissent is encouraged. This provides a great way to hone and test your thinking. We grow as we have a chance to see how our perspectives mesh with those of others I look forward to hearing more about your thoughts on ”inner leadership’.

  23. Sharon Eden says:

    Thanks Dave … asnd I look foward to
    discussing Inner Leadership with you
    more in the future :)

  24. Susan Hayward says:

    Sharon – miss chatting with you. I’m enjoying reading your blogs and getting your viewpoint. Makes me think. Wish I’d been there.

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