Last month I was pretty thrilled to be invited to close AIM’s (sold out!) National Leadership Conference in Brisbane. Over the course of an action-packed and thought provoking day a diverse line-up of experienced and high-profile speakers presented ‘The 7 skills of very successful leaders’. Well, I say that I was thrilled, but in truth I was rather daunted. I’d been set the tricky task of leaving the delegates with some thoughts on ‘The Future of Leadership’.
And then – just a week or two later – the future actually happened! Over in the USA, President Trump was elected.
The Institute’s final 2016 edition of our Member magazine – Leadership Matters – will consider some of the reasons for the election of Donald Trump as the de facto leader of the Western world, but I thought I’d mention one of the aspects of the future of leadership that I presented at the Conference.
The end of authenticity?
I think that discussions about leadership and leaders will eventually move away from conversations about ‘leadership authenticity’. For me, this can’t come soon enough. I understand that this might be a slightly controversial view. Let’s face it, authenticity is very much on-trend at the moment. These days we’re all supposed to be ‘our authentic selves’, authentic leaders, authentic this and authentic that! Not a day goes by without a Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram post popping up and telling us to ‘be authentic, always’.
I have to say that I have no idea what all this means!
I’m firmly of the view that authenticity is a non-construct; it’s a puff-piece. I think that at its best the concept of authenticity in leadership is modern day psycho-babble and at worst it’s very damaging because it lets leaders off the hook.
Donald Trump is a case in point. I think that President-elect Trump is one of most authentic leaders around in the world at the moment. He’s brash, blunt, often rude and sometimes demeaning. And he seems to me to know he is all of these things and to be quite happy about it. A quick read of his Twitter feed illustrates this point quite nicely! It’s clear that he is exactly how he wants to be. By most definitions of authentic Trump is ‘it’. He’s the president of authenticity.
But, does this make him a good leader? Indeed, when it comes to leadership, is authenticity enough?
I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s good enough for leaders to be authentic. In fact, I don’t think that authenticity is a useful construct in discussions about leadership. In my view it’s possible – and very common - to be completely authentic, and still be a terrible leader!
Leadership is about something deeper and more substantial than authenticity. It’s about self-awareness. Being self-aware is about recognising who you are, what you do and the impact you have. And it’s being willing and able to put in the work to change yourself as a leader. It’s too easy for a leader to pat themselves on the back for ‘being authentic’. It’s much harder for that same leader to be self-aware. I’d be interested to hear your views on The End of Authenticity? Feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
As we head into the final months of the year, I’m excited to Meet our Members at the End of Year events coming up around the country. These complimentary events are an opportunity for me to visit regional and metro areas and hear directly from you. Having enjoyed myself so much at the Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart events recently, I’m looking forward to getting to know the Members from the Sunshine Coast region next week.
Coming up on the 25th of November is the annual Cairns Great Debate which has a long history in the Cairns calendar. Each year two teams of local business personalities tackle a serious topic in a less-than-serious environment. This year’s topic: money is the root of all evil. The event has transformed over the years into a comedy event rather than a serious discussion. Traditionally the debaters dress up as various characters - we’ve had Shrek, Marge Simpson, Mr T and Mary Poppins. To find out more about the speakers and MC, visit the website.
And finally, preparations are under way for next year’s International Women’s Day debate. The topic for the debate is “Australia in 2017 is still a man's world,” taking place in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane on the 8th March. For more details on the MCs and tickets, visit the website.
Until next month, ditch authentic and embrace “self-aware” if you want to be a leader for tomorrow.