Steps to Becoming an Authentic Leader – Make the Change!

8 September, 2015

Team Building Experts in Pretoria

It has taken us quite a long time to distinguish between Management and Leadership. The job of any manager mainly focuses on adding value to the work environment by helping others accomplish their tasks. The four functions of management are planning, organising, leading and controlling.

Schermerhorn et al. (2003:11) describes the four functions in more detail:

  • “Planning – defining goals, setting specific performance objectives, and identifying the actions needed to achieve them.
  • Organising – creating work structures and systems, and arranging resources to accomplish goals and objectives.
  • Leading – instilling enthusiasm by communicating with others, motivating them to work hard, and maintaining good interpersonal relationships.
  • Controlling – ensuring that things go well by monitoring performance and taking corrective action as necessary”.

The above clearly gives the impression that management can be effective if one follows the prescribed recipe. I am of the opinion that this is what sells MBA programs. There’s clearly nothing authentic about a recipe. Management is about coping with chaos and creating order by following certain procedures. We all know that management and leadership are two totally different concepts, yet leadership features regularly as a subset of management in literature (Kotter: 2001; Schermerhorn: 2003).

The fact that “leading” is so easily added into the mixing bowl has been the cause of many-disillusioned shareholder (Enron Scandal 2001). The point I would like to make is that three of the four constructs of management (planning, organising and controlling) require a recipe-like mindset whereas leading, requires ‘authenticity’.

With more than 1000 studies attempting to define leadership styles over the past 50 years, we find ourselves in an ever-increasing search to arrive at the profile of the ideal leader. According to George, et al. © TBi 2014 2 (2007:99) this could be seen as our saving grace; with a cookie-cutter model of leadership we would have created individuals forever trying to imitate; turning into personae; not authentic individuals.

The crisp sound of the term ‘authentic’ clearly indicates that we have entered into the world of Postmodern leadership where the focus shifts from a predictable replica to unpredictable and unique individuals. Finding your voice in becoming an authentic leader takes time and cannot be mastered by enrolling on a ‘cook-book-quick-fix’ leadership programme. We have to reconsider our paradigm of leadership because we are increasingly required to perform in an environment of continuing uncertainty and uncontrollable change. ‘Finding your voice’ as authentic leader requires one to first answer the following questions:

  1. Find out who you are (self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-critique, deep reflection and self-facilitated growth)?
  2. What you want to be remembered for?
  3. Do the above answers resonate with significant value creation on all levels of our society and our environment?

One should rather approach authentic leadership development as a state of mind that evolves as one embarks on the journey. defines authenticity as: truthfulness of origin, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.

Herewith a few pointers to keep in mind when you decide to embark on the journey:

  • Test yourself against real-life experiences. Be constantly aware how you measure up against situations that are challenging. Were you able to keep your cool when the taxi overtook in the left lane?
  • Constantly reframe your experiences to understand who you are and what you intend leaving behind. Do you change radically when you at a party especially after the first couple of beers? Stay grounded, always be the same person at work, with family and friends.
  • You have to take responsibility for your own development. Don’t wait for the company you work for to suggest a career development plan and sponsor your growth. Take charge of your learning and development and take action.
  • Take time to think about the story of your life. We do not merely ‘exist’ – we all are the authors of an authentic narrative. Your story is an attempt to make sense of your place in the world.
  • Challenging experiences should be embraced and approached as an opportunity to transform. Being a victim is a choice…rather use difficult experiences to give meaning to your life.
  • It requires courage and honesty to be vulnerable and examine your experiences. Reflect deeply to understand and acknowledge your fears and mental obstacles. Ask your friends to help you identify blind spots and be open to suggestions to address these.
  • Denial can be one of the greatest hurdles that keep us from becoming self-aware.
  • Those values that form the bedrock for authentic leadership are derived from your beliefs and convictions. There is no such thing as situational values.
  • You will not know what your true values are unless they are tested under pressure.
  • Your leadership principles are values translated into action.
  • Maintain a balance between intrinsic (personal achievement/ personal victory) and extrinsic (external validation) motivation.
  • An important step, that will bring you closer to authentic leadership, is when one realises you cannot succeed on your own.
  • Maintain healthy relationships as they help to maintain a healthy perspective of reality.
  • Distinguish the essential from the expendable. Even if it is valued by many it must be left behind in order to move forward.
  • Set the tone for candour and risk-taking, by creating opportunities for ‘courageous conversations.’
  • Approach stability as a liability – embrace change and uncertainty.
  • Use leaders to create more leaders – ‘distribute’ leadership by mobilising everyone to generate ideas for solutions.
  • Find the difference between ‘timeless principles’ and ‘daily practices.’
  • Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. (George, et al.: 2007)

You have all that it takes to be an authentic leader. Leadership does not belong to a selected few. All it requires is for you to take stock of who you are and your dream to leave something good behind, to make the world a better place.

Should you wish to discuss the content of the article with Dr Heunis please contact him on +27 12 807 0242 /

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