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            [post_content] => The cover story of the January issue of HBR caught my attention. This article was titled "The Authenticity Paradox" by Herminia Ibarra. As an executive coach the subject of authentic leadership is of real interest to me as it is a subject that in recent times, arises with increasing regularity. Following the economic downturn, and perhaps reflecting on the inauthentic decisions that precipitated the fall from grace of many executives, an increasing number of leaders are responding to the call for authenticity and meaning. Likewise, leaders who were in some cases sidelined during the boom times because they didn't follow the herd are now finding their authentic voice.

[caption id="attachment_9383" align="alignnone" width="245"]Copyright Copyright[/caption]


Reading the article by Ibarra, however, I was reminded of the old joke that scientists like to tell. It goes like this.

Late at night, a police officer sees an intoxicated man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he’s looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he’s sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the officer asks. Because the light’s better here, explains the man.

The point is that we sometimes search for answers where the light is better rather than where the truth is more likely to lie. I believe this to be the case when it comes to Authenticity and Authentic Leadership.

Authenticity is about 'Being' rather than 'Doing'. In other words, the search for authenticity is philosophical, rather than psychological.

However, we seem to search for authenticity through the lens of organisational behaviour. Is this because "the light is better here". Perhaps as leaders we need to return to philosophy. Fundamentally, my disagreement with the article is the emphasis on Doing before Being. This is at the very heart of the issue and is not surprising as modern western society is very focussed on Having and Doing and less on Being. Authenticity is fundamentally a way of being. Ibarra treats authenticity as Doing, something one does.The premise that Ibarra puts forward is that we should carefully choose our leadership actions, and act as chameleons focussing, not on our internal values, but instead constantly reacting to the external environment. However, for me, the chameleon metaphor sums up rather succinctly the very essence of inauthenticity. The chameleon is always reacting to the external world. It epitomises the outer-directed leader, whose identity is so much a reaction to others that his or her own being is emptied.

Having a clear sense of who you are is the best point to start a leadership journey.

I don't believe that any advocate of authentic leadership would suggest that we are fixed entities and remain so. On the contrary, our authenticity ultimately manifests itself in the authentic choices we make as leaders; choices based on understanding ourselves, our values, our strengths and our weaknesses. If we fail to start from a basis of authenticity then how likely is it that the leadership choices we make will be authentic. I am concerned then when I see an article that seems to be taking a backwards step by placing an emphasis on the rational roots of leadership enquiry; leadership as merely a set of qualities, behaviours, competencies which together go to make up "leadership". Authentic Leadership is a break away from early management theory, the search for certainty and predictability, and constitutes a move towards leadership as a way of being. This is at the heart (pardon the pun) of authentic leadership.

Have we learned nothing from the economic crash? Is back to business as usual? Are we going to settle for, at best, a thin veneer of authenticity or will we encourage the new leaders to stop trying to Act Authentic and start Being Authentic?

Billy Byrne works as an executive coach and HR consultant and has worked with a range of levels, from graduates to senior leaders. His experience includes a mix of both business level and corporate activity, including the the design and implementation of Organisational Development interventions and major change programmes. He has played a key role in the development of HR Strategy at ESB. Billy is a part of the Executive Coaching Panel at IMI.  Read more about the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching [post_title] => Authenticity - Solid or Veneer? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => authenticity-solid-veneer [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:58:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:58:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 22406 [post_author] => 7 [post_date] => 2018-03-15 12:47:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-15 12:47:02 [post_content] => [post_title] => Being an Authentic Leader: The Emotional Intelligence Connection [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => authentic-leader-emotional-intelligence-connection [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-13 06:41:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-13 06:41:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26916 [post_author] => 146 [post_date] => 2019-03-01 20:57:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-01 20:57:40 [post_content] => Authentic leaders are in high demand. For the collaborative, team-orientated approach to tackling strategic challenges that dominates the modern work culture, authentic leaders are key in creating the environment for successful execution. In this week’s episode we talk to Billy Byrne, executive coach and leadership development specialist, about what happens in organisations lacking in authentic leadership, how to build a culture of authenticity and why President Trump has a lot of work to do.
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[post_title] => Episode 5: Billy Byrne – The Authentic Leader [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => episode-5-billy-byrne-the-authentic-leader [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-09 12:17:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-09 12:17:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 20226 [post_author] => 71 [post_date] => 2017-11-22 16:28:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-22 16:28:38 [post_content] => [post_title] =>  The ‘Simply Irresistible’ Leader [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => simply-irresistible-leadership [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-14 07:09:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-14 07:09:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Billy Byrne

Billy Byrne

5th Jun 2018

Billy Byrne is an IMI associate on the High Impact Leadership programme.

Related Articles

Authenticity - Solid or Veneer?
Being an Authentic Leader: The Emotional Intelligence Connection
Episode 5: Billy Byrne – The Authentic Leader
 The ‘Simply Irresistible’ Leader

To Thine Own Self be True: Leadership Lessons in Authenticity

Authenticity is often characterised by the famous quotation from Hamlet, in which Polonius gives the following advice to Laertes:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man” – Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

While this might be wise advice to Laertes, it is not universally applicable to leadership. The simple reason is that authenticity and authentic leadership are not one and the same. Unfortunately, some leaders believe that they simply need to be true to themselves in order to be an authentic leader.

However, this is really only half the story. Simply being true to oneself does not recognise that authentic leadership is, at its core, a relationship with those around you. What we need to explore is how we should build upon the foundation of authenticity to develop as authentic leaders.

Does being an authentic leader mean wearing a mask or developing your authenticity itself? (Photo source)


The Gold Standard

The topic of Authentic Leadership has been around for quite a while. It has even been referred to in the Harvard Business Review as the “gold standard for leadership”. Without focusing too much on definitions of authentic leadership, it’s generally agreed that authentic leaders are very self-aware and have a strong personal value-system. They also lead from a position of trust and connect with others at a very personal level. Organisationally they are mission-driven and adopt a long-term perspective.

For authentic leaders, leadership is not a static ‘me and them’, a leader with followers. Rather, leadership is an on-going relationship that requires intent and effort. Authentic leadership is about authentic relationships. Building and maintaining these relationships requires more than just authenticity and good intent. It also requires a range of emotional intelligence skills.

With this in mind, and as a means of moving beyond just authenticity, I’d like to propose three emotional intelligence skills that leaders should continuously develop and practice if they wish to grow as authentic leaders.


Developing Emotional Intelligence as a Leader

1) Broaden your self-awareness beyond yourself. Leaders need to increase their awareness of how others impact the leader’s own decision-making and emotional responses. Take time to reflect on the external triggers that invoke an emotional response. These might be particular people, situations or topics. Ask yourself, “are these responses serving me and others well?”

2) Develop more Empathy. The key to developing greater levels of empathy is to become a better listener. In addition to listening for facts, ask yourself, “how does this person feel about this?” Reflect back to the other person what you’ve heard them say: this clearly says to the other person “I understand you”.

3) Increase your range of emotional expression. In other words, learn to more skilfully share with others what you are feeling as well as what you are thinking. You are doing this already because “your body never shuts up” – in other words, you are always communicating with your body language, facial expressions etc. Being more skilful is not about acting or putting on a false image. The leader needs to be aware of how she “shows up” as a leader every day and how this impacts on others.

So, to return to our friend Polonious, perhaps a better piece of advice might have been:

“To thine own self, and others, be true”

People will remember how you made them feel, long after they’ve forgotten what you said.


Billy Byrne is an IMI associate on the High Impact Leadership programme.

He is an executive coach, leadership development specialist and an associate at KinchLyons, Organisational Psychologists. Billy holds masters degrees in organisational behaviour and coaching. He is a chartered fellow of CIPD and Council Member of EMCC. To date he has completed sixteen marathons.

For more on coaching and how it can impact individuals and the organisation as a whole, explore our IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching.