Creator, Phil Eastman talks about how his leadership journey led him to the creation of the Authentic Leadership Checklist.
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Most leaders are “made” not “born.” Many labor under the misconception that leadership is an innate ability resident only in a few. We look at the great leaders of the past and tend to think that they possess some genetic or socialized code that we cannot possess. The truth is that some people are “born leaders” but they are small minority of the people actually called upon to lead.
In fact, leadership is something that I believe every individual in an organization should understand and be able to practice when called upon. Historically organizations only required the people at the top of the organization to lead but in today’s complex organizations where all the energies of the organization are centered on the customer, it is necessary for people at all levels to be competent as leaders. At any given time, anyone can be called on to take a leadership role in a mission critical project.
The first step in developing leadership is to identify a set of competencies that you and your organization agree exemplify leadership. There are classic sets of leadership competencies that include such topics as vision, motivation, teamwork, communication. We rely on the Authentic Leadership Checklist™ for a robust list of competencies.
Let’s look at the first and most important element in developing leadership skills. Once competencies have been chosen, then it is important to measure the individual’s proficiency. This can be done through observation, interviews or an third party assessment. My preference is to assess leadership competency using a multi-rater tool that allows a leader to rate their own ability along with ratings from the direct supervisor, peers and employees. This 360-degree view of proficiency is a most humbling experience but for anyone serious about developing leadership ability, it is crucial.
Once the assessment is complete then the development plan is built. The plan should take into account the existing proficiency of the individual on the leadership aspects that are critical to performance. Many times organizations try to build the perfect leader who is strong in the all the identified competencies. However, the reality is most of us have some areas of leadership that we can excel at and other areas that will constantly be a struggle. Emphasize development of the competencies critical to the job and do not focus on those that are not critical.
The next step is to execute the leadership development plan. Development of leadership competencies can be done through formalized education, seminars and workshops, individual study, on the job coaching or a leadership advisor.
Finally, once the development activities have been completed (usually after one year) it is important to the reassess the individual’s skill level to determine improvement. This should be done using the same method as the initial assessment so a true measurement of improvement can be tracked.
This cycle of development is simple and yet many organizations fail to account for the need and ability to develop leadership skills in their people. The organizations that struggle the most are the entrepreneurial enterprises. Many entrepreneurs fail to see the need for leadership in anyone but themselves and as a result often build organizations that are overly dependent one person for all of the leadership and direction. This style may work when the organization is formed, but company growth strains human capital and unless leadership is cultivated and developed ahead of the needs of the company the organization can stall out.
Consequently, leadership development is critical to long-term success of any organization and the long-term satisfaction of the workforce.
The connection between leadership authenticity and performance is crystal clear. Long established research by some of the most reputable firms in the world affirms the value of an engaged workforce. Engaged employees are more productive, flexible and more likely to commit extra effort to the organization. So, how do you build an engaged workforce? The answer is simple; demonstrate authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is the passion and capability to transparently engage, motivate and move people toward achieve of shared goals. Authentic leadership is the most efficient and effective way to engage workers. If you want a better bottom line, build your leadership authenticity.
Despite the fact that the concept of authentic leadership is simple, the practice can be challenging. It is for that reason we created a framework for evaluating and developing personal leadership authenticity. It is made up of three components:
Since people lead from their values, it is critical to focus leadership development on who you are before focusing on what you do, in other words your character. Context is the second component. This is where you lead. Leadership happens in real time, in a real setting, with real people. Consequently, being an expert in the environment in which you lead is essential to leadership authenticity. The third component is competence. Competency is the key to leading well. You must be capable and credible as the leader.
Our experience tells us that most leaders fail because of weakness in one or more of those three areas. With that said, the largest, most dramatic, impact-filled failures occur when character collapses. There are seven leadership failure points related to character, making it essential to measure, consider and develop character that leads to authenticity. The seven leadership failure points are:
1. Wrong values
2. Issues of fairness
3. Aggression and arrogance
4. Performance without purpose
5. Lack of innovation
6. People as assets
7. Inconsistent behavior
I’d like to share a story about Carl. Carl seventy years old and has been at the CEO of his organization for over ten years. During the course of those years, the organization visibly flourished. Growth and profitability steadily improved despite a periodically treacherous economy. The Board was outwardly pleased with Carl’s performance, but a few members quietly wondered if his unconventional leadership style was best for the organization.
The Board could not point to specific performance issues, but they had a sense that something was amiss. The feeling was fueled by consistent staff turnover. Nothing dramatic occurred, but some wondered if the sudden departure of key members of the small team had something to do with Carl’s methods. As the economy improved, the feeling turned to panic when the entire staff turned over in less than 30 days. Carl explained to the Board that each departure was unrelated. What the Board soon found however was that the sudden turnover and even some of the turnover in past years was in fact directly connected to Carl’s leadership. After conducting several exit interviews, the Board came to learn that even though the organization’s financials were strong, the work environment was one of bullying and intimidation. In fact, the organization succeeded despite the callous treatment the staff endured under Carl’s leadership. Carl told the Board that the departures were because he had high standards, drove hard for success and most people simply could not measure up. The Board appreciated his drive for success but was adamantly opposed to his dictatorial and demeaning leadership approach. It seems Carl yelled at staff members, then apologized profusely followed by promises never to do it again. Of course he did repeat the same behavior so often that the team members became accustomed to the outbursts. It was not until one new staff member pointed out to the rest that the behavior was unacceptable that the whole team began to consider a change. As the economy improved, the disengaged team members began looking for other positions. Within two months, the entire team turned over.
Carl’s performance masked deeper problems. Even though the numbers reflected positive company growth, the organization was not healthy. Carl’s challenge was his character. It was what led to an inauthentic leadership style that disengaged his team.
To begin building your authentic leadership, use our checklist to evaluate your character. Each of the seven areas represents a potential authentic leadership failure point.
Research has established the value of an engaged workforce. Research also indicates that authentic leaders inspire employee engagement. Authentic leadership is the most efficient and effective way to engage workers, consequently, improving the bottom line.
In January, we will discuss the next component of leadership authenticity- Context and in February, the final component of leadership authenticity- Competency. Character, Context and Competence, together create the framework for authentic leadership.
Leadership is not an academic exercise. Even though the study of leadership is a legitimate pursuit it is of no use if you can’t effectively apply your skill. Leadership happens in real time, in a real setting, with real people. Consequently, being an expert in the environment in which you lead is essential to authentic leadership.
We have defined authentic leadership as the passion and capability to transparently engage, motivate and move people to achieve shared goals. Fulfilling that definition requires you to be a student of your context.
If you have ever had occasion to visit a theme park you know the power of context. Theme parks are large complex, integrated systems that can be very challenging to navigate. Navigation is especially difficult when adrenalin is pumping and emotions are soaring. Under those conditions it is critical that you periodically consult your theme park map to determine where you are in relationship to the construct of the park and what you want to accomplish. Having a map is even more when you have occasion to visit more than one park. You know immediately that what you learned about one park is not directly transferable to the second. Each park has its own map, its own context.
Developing and applying authentic leadership is akin to that theme park experience and the Authentic Leadership Framework’s second component helps guide you by using 7 context checklist items:
- Organizational direction
- Your industry
- Leadership philosophy
- Organizational history
- The locations of your organization
- The diversity and demographics or your organization
- The existing culture of the organization
The importance of context to authentic leadership was illustrated in one of the largest acquisitions ever undertaken in the grocery industry. Coming off decades of growth in 1998 the leadership team of Albertsons set make a nearly 12 billion-dollar acquisition of American Stores. The strategic decision was sound but the integration was fatally flawed. As the integration of the two companies struggled the existing leadership exited and a new leader whose entire professional experience had been with GE was brought into rescue Albertsons. Larry Johnston was arguably one of GE’s most successful executives and appeared to be the right person to turnaround Albertsons.
However Larry’s leadership approach, although highly successful at GE, was not a fit for the grocery chain. His institution of new disciplines and approaches was not successful. He was shown the door and Albertson’s was subsequently sold to SuperValu.
There are countless details to explore in this story but at its heart was a leadership failure to comprehend and account for context. Specifically the absence of an appreciation for the power of organizational culture, history and differences in leadership philosophy contributed to the demise.
Authentic leadership is the most effective and efficient way to engage people and an engaged workforce is essential to your organizations success. A major portion of your authentic leadership journey will be mastering context.
I recently talked to one of our clients facing an employee issue. It’s a difficult situation with an employee that is well thought of but is not fully capable of doing the job assigned him. In the course of the conversation we talked about how difficult it is to trust someone that is not capable. The same is true of any leader. Trust is tied directly to one’s level of leadership competence. That is why the Authentic Leadership framework contains competence as one of its components.
I first came to understand the critical role trust plays in leadership when reading the book Building Trust by Fernando Flores. In this short and very dense book, Flores teases apart the difference between being trustworthy and being trusted. He shares that trustworthiness is a basic sense that a person is honest. You could leave your purse on the table and a trustworthy person would not steal your money. This is something very different from being trusted. Flores contends, and I agree, that to trust a person means to have an agreed upon set of expectations and a commitment to complete an activity based on those expectations and actively closing any gaps between what was expected and experienced. When someone is trusted, it is because expectations are clear and tasks are completed as agreed. Trust is broken when expectations are not met. Think of the people you trust. You will find this simple cycle of clear expectations, shared commitments and closing gaps will be true. You can think of people you don’t trust and it will because expectations were not clear, commitments were assumed and gaps were not addressed.
This cycle is true for leaders. We often put people in leadership roles without clear expectations of what it means to lead. They then fall short, we don’t address the gaps and the organization struggles. For a leader to be trusted, and consequently authentic, one must make known their expectations. In the case of the Authentic Leadership Checklist™ that means expecting competency in seven classic areas.
Competence is a tricky term, since it has taken on a negative connotation. Competence, however is simply possessing the ability to do something well. There are a variety of leadership competency models available for leaders. Some are created after observing successful leaders and noting what they do. Others models are built inductively by stating what we want leaders to be. The seven competencies we placed in the Authentic Leadership framework are classic competencies. We chose these because of their universality and applicability to authentic leadership. They are:
-A realistic understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses. You use that understanding to the organization’s advantage.
– The ability to effectively and efficiently communicate verbally and in writing and you are a good listener.
• Integrated thinking
-The ability to see and operate holistically despite the reality of organizational silos and structural barriers.
• Problem solving
-The ability to solve a problem at its root.
-The combination of your education and experience allows you to lead and operate skillfully.
-The ability to focus on accomplishing goals, holding yourself and others accountable.
• Strategic focus
-The ability to observe and direct the organization as a whole while not losing site of the tactical aspects.
The framework for authentic leadership consists of three components- character, context and competence. We have discussed the centrality of character to leadership. I’ve contended that understanding the context of where you lead is vital to authenticity. Finally, making the case that to be an authentic leader you must be competent. None of those three components matter, however if you miss the whole reason for authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is the most effective and efficient way to engage your team members. Engaged team members deliver better results and so if you want a better bottom line, be an authentic leader.
The Authentic Leadership Checklist™ is in its final stages of development and will be ready for you to use very soon. If you would like to receive a free copy of the framework and its checklist please send a note to email@example.com. When it is complete you will receive a free copy.
“No organization rises above the capabilities of its leader”
Additionally, leadership is no longer confined to the people at the top of the organization. In today’s complex organizations it is critical that people at all levels can be strong leaders.
Organizations face opportunities and challenges unique to their own markets, culture and competition. Our approach is tailored to your individual situation. Phil Eastman is an experienced leader and advisor with the ability to help you develop your leadership skill. Click here to view Phil’s extensive biography as an executive leader, advisor and public speaker.
When do you need a coach?
- When your own growth stagnates
- When you and your team are struggling
- When you accept a new role with expanded responsibilities
- When facing a difficult leadership situation
What should you look for in a coach?
- A trusting individual in whom you can confide
- Experience in leadership and advising
- Insight into your industry
- Thought leadership
Why engage a coach?
- To develop new skills and abilities
- To accelerate leadership growth
- To gather an outside perspective
- To accelerate organizational success
Because we tailor our coaching to your situation, let’s talk about what you need.
Praise from the Audience
“I wholeheartedly, without reservation, endorse and recommend Phil as a coach. He is business saavy and personally insightful. He will tell you the truth in a way that motivates you to succeed. He can reach back into his years of business experience to teach you essential skills, polish up your abilities and help you become a leader faster than you ever would by yourself. I know this from personal experience having Phil as a coach, and then watching the real impact he’s made on the executives in our company that he has worked with. If you need something to make a big, positive impact in your organization, get Phil in there now.”
-Sr HR Director, Fortune 100 Company
“I have thoroughly benefited from my work with Phil Eastman. He has an ability to pull from a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience to help me effectively think and plan strategically and to better address key issues within the college. I was most impressed by his ability to apply his consulting talents effectively within an academic setting.”
-Dr. Tim Dunnagan
Dean, College of Health Sciences, Boise State University
“Leadership is the most powerful enabling (or limiting) force in an organization”- Phil Eastman
By, Phil Eastman