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Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP

 

A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Authenticity and Vulnerability?

Regular readers will know that I am a proponent of timeless leadership practices. I am convinced that good leaders have always done the same things well. Poor leaders have always made the same mistakes. This said, leadership thinking often changes with cultural influences, giving rise to faddish ideas that seem good at first glance but don't hold up to closer scrutiny. I believe this is the case with two of the most popular words in leadership today: Authenticity and Vulnerability.

Let's take authenticity first. The thinking generally goes something like this: be authentic, be who you truly are, to become a great leader. But what if who you are isn't so great? The call to authenticity seems to assume a certain goodness of character and this is a deeply flawed assumption. Too many leaders are bullies, narcissistic and or control freaks, to list but a few fatal flaws. Should they be authentic?

A few years ago I was seated beside someone on a plane who told me that when he simply gave way to the really nasty guy he is and embraced his nature to cheat and exploit others, he found real contentment. Yes, this is a true story. Remarkable as the exchange was in its candour, it pointed to a truth and to the problem with authenticity. Every leader, even the best, have lots of room for improvement.

In part one of my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, I wrote "Strong effective leaders have a healthy degree of introspection. They seek to know themselves, their strengths and their frailties. They reflect on each experience to help them become better leaders." The best leaders don't seek authenticity so much as they look for flaws and strive to improve. They seek to become better than they are today. For them character development is a never ending process. Authenticity from the worst of leaders presents a much bigger problem. Taken literally, it would legitimize the worst of behaviours as it did with the fellow seated beside me on the flight.

Now for Vulnerability, The Oxford Dictionary describes it as "exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." The problem is that people just don't follow weak leaders and vulnerability often leaves the impression of weakness when people need confidence. They don't want arrogance but they do want courage and strength of character. The reality is that teams take their emotional strength from their leader. There were very challenging times, even a few frightful times (a couple of very tough labour disputes come to mind), during my years leading newspapers that I knew if my knees buckled many others would have as well. When a team's back is against the wall and people are feeling threatened, they are not looking for vulnerability. They need courage, confidence and strength. A leader may feel vulnerable but it is unwise to share this with the people he or she is leading.

Authenticity and Vulnerability have become hot leadership words these days. For reasons I do not completely understand they evoke a very warm favourable response. I suppose in some contexts there is nothing wrong with them, however they don't fit in a timeless approach to leadership. Authenticity and vulnerability may play well with academics, writers and consultants but they don't work in real world leadership.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

 

Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.



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