Authentic Leadership: All Natural, Nothing Added
It’s been a long day at work, and I just want to sit down. I reach for the remote control hoping to find something on TV to watch (or as my wife says let the TV “watch me”). I start channel surfing and keep finding “reality” after “reality” TV show.
We seem to live in a time when the lines between “reality” and “authenticity” have become blurred. TV shows about people getting married without knowing each other; about celebrity housewives and husbands; about some family keeping up with another and so on. Oddly enough, these realities don’t seem to resemble any of the realities that most of us live or experience daily. This got me thinking (which I was really trying not to do) about the differences between these types of TV “Reality Leaders” and “Authentic Leaders.”
What is a TV “Reality Leader”? I bet you probably know or have met one.
Leadership is all about them. People are there to serve them. They love sound bites, photo opportunities and handshakes. They say things because it is what they think it’s what people want to hear. Omissions are strategies. They practice “invisible transparency,” meaning they’re transparent about the things they want you to know about, especially if it benefits them. They don’t hold people accountable; in fact, they praise them publicly and talk about them behind their backs. You can find them just about anywhere: at work, school, and yes, even church. They are experts at “excluding God.”
Thankfully, there is an alternative. It’s the “Authentic Leader.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines authentic as something that is “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” John 8:28-29 gives us insight into Jesus’ authentic leadership principles:
"So Jesus said, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
Why are these verses foundational for understanding authentic leadership?
- Jesus doesn’t pretend to be something that He is not. He doesn’t puff His chest and proclaim to be the boss; instead, He accepts His role as representative.
- Jesus acknowledges that He is not alone. He is accountable to the one Who sent Him.
- Finally, Jesus accepts His responsibility to “always do what pleases Him.” These foundational principles remain consistent and constant regardless of where you look in the Bible.
Becoming an Authentic Leader
What can we learn from the example that Jesus gives us? How can we apply the lessons of authentic leadership in our spheres of influence? While there are many competencies associated with Authentic Leadership, I believe there are three fundamental questions or concepts:
- Ask yourself “Who am I”?
You can call this self-awareness, but I think it's also about integrity and character.
Know your values and standards. Communicate them openly. Do not compromise them by pretending to be something that you are not. If you are the leader, be the leader. If you are a parent, be a parent. Whatever roles you happen to have, you have a vital part to play. Know your role, but be true to yourself. People know when you’re faking it.
- Know “Whose Am I?”
This is about accountability. Whether we like it or not, we are all accountable. We don’t have to like it, just accept it.
As husbands, we are accountable to our wives; as employees to our bosses; and as parents to our children; and, of course, we are all accountable to God.
“He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” Hebrews 4:13 (TLB)
- It’s not a popularity contest.
In the 1990s, Baby Sinclair proclaimed “I’m the Baby, Gotta Love Me.” Unfortunately, some leaders feel the same way. We all want, and feel a need, to be accepted. But if it is more important to be popular or liked than to lead, it’s time to find a new job. Leadership still requires that we get things done.
A common misperception about servant leadership is that it is more important to please those we serve than it is to fulfill our responsibilities as leaders.
Imagine how much easier it would have been if Jesus had just told everyone what they wanted to hear, if He just compromised His values. He certainly could have avoided much of the pain He endured.
Instead Jesus remained "authentic." He didn’t try to please the people. Instead, He remembered Who sent Him, to Whom He was accountable, and He always tried to do what “pleased Him.”
Authentic Leaders set the example; they don’t say “Do as I say, not as I do” but instead say, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
If leadership begins in the heart, then Authentic Leadership is an extension of the leader’s heart.
Unlike the reality TV shows of the Travel Chanel, we don’t have hosts to direct us in our pursuit of Authentic Leadership. We can’t rely on Map Quest or Google Maps for directions but we can rely on GPS (God’s Positioning System) to deliver us to our destination.
Prayer: Father, help me to be an authentic leader in every aspect of my life. Let me be true to who I am and guide me to be Your humble servant. Hold me accountable for setting, and leading others to follow, the example that You have given. Let me be open to the correction of others, and through my example, help me to draw others closer to you. Amen.
Written by: Gilbert Camacho
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