Tag Archive for genuine

Be Authentic

I have worked with teenagers for years, and I believe one of their defining characteristics is a common dislike for hypocrisy. That is not to say that they don’t also demonstrate hypocrisy and wear masks themselves, but as a whole, they don’t like adults who say one thing and do another. They use the term “hypocrite” to describe this behavior, but there are other words that also apply: credible, genuine, real, or authentic. This belief or feeling, though, is not just true for teenagers; everyone dislikes hypocrisy and wants to see authenticity. This is a foundational principle that emerged in Kouzes & Posner’s leadership research, published in The Leadership Challenge, revealing that “more than anything, people want leaders who are credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (p. 32). This led to their statement of “The First Law of Leadership: if you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message” (p. 33).

According to Peter Northouse, in Leadership: Theory and Practice, authentic leadership is leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values (p. 282), and is developmental (a life-long process), intrapersonal (within), and interpersonal (relationship). In other words, authenticity is all about being genuine, real, and trustworthy, both with yourself and with others, and about showing genuine care for the best interest of others. Being authentic means being genuine, consistently matching your walk with your talk, and it is absolutely critical to effective leadership.

The most important component of authenticity is honesty. It is honesty that makes someone believable and trustworthy, because it becomes the visible evidence of integrity. According to Kouzes and Posner: “Regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behavior. Consistency between word and deed is how people judge someone to be honest” (p. 28). You know this to be true. You can think of examples in your own experience of people who were dishonest and lacked integrity, and you know what you thought about those people and how it affected your level of trust. I don’t think anyone would question the significance of honesty. I think we also know that the “proof is in the pudding” – we decide someone’s honesty based on the actions that we see.

So then, besides the characteristic of honesty, what does authenticity look like? First, you must understand that what it does not look like is imitation. To be authentic, you must be you, not someone else, and sometimes that is much more difficult than we realize. It’s fairly easy for us to try to take on attributes and characteristics of people we look up to, and it’s also appealing to try to imitate others who we want to be like. But the truth is, “no one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else” (George, et. al., Discovering your authentic leadership, p. 163). It’s true that there are some things that we do because we have been exposed to an influential person in our lives; for example, I can point out a number of my own behaviors that reflect my father’s influence, and I can describe important ways in which my wife has shaped who I am. However, being affected by their influence does not mean that I am being them. Rather, everything I have learned has had to be applied in a way that matches my own personality and characteristics. I still have to be me.

Second, authenticity means that people can trust you to “DWYSYWD: Do What You Say You Will Do. DWYSYWD has two essential elements: say and do. To be credible in action, leaders must be clear about their beliefs; they must know what they stand for. That’s the “say” part. Then they must put what they say into practice: they must act on their beliefs and “do” (Kouzes and Posner, p. 38). This characteristic will most clearly be revealed when the pressure is on and the challenge is great. Without question, “the values that form the basis for authentic leadership are derived from your beliefs and convictions, but you will not know what your true values are until they are tested under pressure” (George, et. al., pp. 169-170). When the heat is turned up, the fire will usually reveal your true colors, and that’s when people can see if your authenticity is real.

The conclusion, then, is that a leader must be authentic in order to be effective. People must be able to tell that you are genuine, that you are who you say you are because you do what you say you will do. Whether you realize it or not, you are being watched by your people, your family, your customers, and your community, so that they can determine if you are believable and therefore trustworthy. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. That’s why I believe that authenticity needs to be at the top of the list for every leader.

George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A. N., and Mayer, D., “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Ed.). Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Ed.). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.



Live with Integrity

When I was in elementary school (I think it was the fourth grade), I had an experience that opened my eyes to the importance of integrity.  If you would have asked me at that age what the word “integrity” means, I’m sure I would have had no idea, but this event helped me to realize the concept, even if I didn’t understand the vocabulary.  Although I don’t recall all the details, it became one of those defining moments of childhood that was seared into my memory.

Another child in my grade (he was not even someone who was part of my close group of friends) got in trouble for something and was sent to the principal’s office.  I don’t remember what he was accused of doing, but I do remember getting called to the principal’s office shortly after he was.  I was terrified, assuming that I must have done something wrong, but I had no idea what I might have done.  When I got to the office, I was escorted in, where I saw the other student sitting in a chair.  When he saw me, he turned and looked at the principal and said, “Please ask Jeff, he doesn’t lie, he always tells the truth!”

As it turns out, he had been accused of something that he had not done, and although I was simply another classmate, he chose to put his life in my hands, so to speak, because he trusted my integrity.  And the principal trusted me too!  It seems that, as an elementary student, I had developed a reputation of honesty among my peers and my teachers.  In my heart, I knew – even at that age – that I could lie as well as anyone and that I often made bad choices, but it was also a revelation to me that my choices of honesty at school had impacted how others viewed me and trusted me.  I played that event over in my mind many times during the next months, amazed at the realization of how important it was to have integrity.

But some heads are harder than others (mine in particular), and sin nature still gets in the way, so this was not a “one and done” lesson for me.  A couple of years later, I was in a convenience store with some friends, and took a candy bar from the shelf and put it in my pocket.  I did not have any money to pay for it, but I really wanted it and I was certain no one saw me.  We left the store and walked across the road to the church where my father was the pastor, and when we walked inside, my dad called me into his office.  He asked me if I had anything to tell him, and I said no.  He had me empty my pockets, and when he saw the candy bar, I told him I had bought it at the store.  What I didn’t know was that the store clerk, who knew my dad, had seen me take the candy bar and had called my dad.  I was caught and didn’t know it, and I lied.  I remember flashing back in my memory to my fourth grade experience of honesty, and realizing that it’s pretty easy to lie, but that integrity takes work, and I had failed the test of integrity.

The Bible has a lot to say about integrity.  Sometimes it’s called honesty, sometimes uprightness, sometimes blamelessness, sometimes righteousness.  There are numerous verses in Proverbs that speak to it directly, there are many illustrations of it (both positive and negative) lived out in the lives of Bible characters.  Jesus Himself is the personification of it (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”).  Therefore I don’t think anyone would dispute that it is a necessary character trait for any Christian. I do think, though, that it may help us to see a picture of what it actually is.

Several months ago, I was visiting the church where I had grown up, and attending a small group class that my dad was teaching.  He happened to be teaching on integrity.  His outline listed a number of verses, among them the following:

  • I Chronicles 29:17 – I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.
  • Proverbs 10:9 – Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
  • Proverbs 11:5-6 – The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.
  • Proverbs 20:7 – The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.
  • Proverbs 28:6 – Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.


As he was teaching, I started searching online on my phone for the specific meanings of the Hebrew words in those verses, and I discovered something that I found to be very interesting.  It seemed that all of the words in those verses that were related to integrity appeared to come from variations on one of two different Hebrew root words: yashar and tamam.  I looked up the meanings of those two words and learned that yashar means straight, even, level, correct, or upright, and that tamam means complete, whole, entire, or completeness.  In combination, they give the idea of something that is completely and totally true and upright, not warped, and without falsehood.

So think about those meanings: straight and level, whole and complete.  That sounds like a good description of integrity.  The opposite would be crooked and uneven or wobbly, fractured and incomplete.  Then think about those ideas in the context of integrity: not telling the whole story, giving a half-truth, intentionally misleading, using or providing faulty information, sending someone down a wrong path – these are all things that reflect a lack of integrity. And they are all things that don’t belong in the character of a godly leader. This is the crux of ethics in leadership – maintaining integrity in all circumstances.  It’s difficult, especially in high-pressure environments, but necessary as a representative of Jesus Christ.  You have a responsibility and an opportunity to model integrity, and in so doing you will become a trusted leader that others are willing to follow.  As a Christian leader, you don’t have a choice: live with integrity.

“Daring Greatly,” by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly, Brown, coverBrené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, is a book about vulnerability and it’s value in leadership and in relationships.

Dr. Brown begins with a discussion about scarcity, or the feeling of never having or being enough. This feeling is attributed to the behaviors of shame, comparison, and disengagement, and therefore the counter attack is vulnerability and worthiness, being willing to face risk and exposure and knowing that I am enough (which she defines as “wholeheartedness”). But these are the very behaviors that we often avoid or refuse, and the result, then, is that “the greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness” (p. 29).

Vulnerability is described as a place of uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure, or, being open to attack or damage. The fear and misunderstanding of that risk has produced several myths – such as “vulnerability is weakness” – that inhibit our willingness to be vulnerable. Brown explains that it is necessary, then, that we develop “shame resilience,” or the ability to identify, face, and respond to what causes us shame in order to develop vulnerability. She then describes the typical shields / masks / defenses we employ to protect our vulnerability, and presents three strategies for removing those shields

Having identified and explained vulnerability, with the obstacles that inhibit it and the means to develop it, Brown addresses the importance of recognizing the value gap – the difference between what we want to do, think, or feel, and what we actually do, think, or feel. The disengagement between these two values (between talk and walk) must be overcome, both individually and culturally. She identifies the key to change, or re-engaging, as “disruptive engagement,” which involves making it safe to fail, combatting shame, and cultivating a unity and honesty that fosters vulnerability.

The essence of the book is the importance of being genuine. We must be genuine, and we must help others be genuine. In order to be genuine, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with people, so that they can see who we really are. This can be scary, but it’s also necessary for building trust, because it reflects authenticity. I personally believe authenticity is crucial for effective leaders, so this book may be a good resource for helping you develop along that path.

Brown, Brené (2012). Daring Greatly: How the courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Gotham Books: New York, NY.

What is Authentic Leadership?

This is a summary of “Authentic Leadership Theory” that I published several months ago. The overall theme for this month is “Be Genuine,” and includes posts on being authentic and building credibility, and a review of Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which addresses vulnerability and transparency; therefore it only makes sense that I repost the description of authentic leadership!

Authentic Leadership is a recent model of leadership, according to research studies, and can be defined as leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values. (Northouse, 2013)  It seems to involve a life-long process of development, both in internal growth and in external relationships.

According to Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice, there are two basic prescriptive (or practical) models and one general descriptive (or theoretical) model:

1)      Robert Terry’s action-centered model focuses on “doing the right thing.” It incorporates an “authentic action wheel” with six spokes – meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, and existence – and a two-step process of action; step one is diagnosing the problem, and step two is determining the response to the problem.

2)      Bill George’s developmental model focuses on the development of authentic leadership qualities over a lifetime.  This model presents the learning and development of five necessary characteristics:  purpose, which comes from passion; values, which produce behaviors; relationships, which build connection; self-discipline, which causes consistency; and heart, which shows compassion.

3)      The theoretical model of Authentic Leadership is best expressed by Walumbwa, and by Luthans and Avolio.  In this model, three antecedent factors are identified:  the positive psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience; moral reasoning (which leads to ethical decision-making); and critical life events that shape and change leaders.  These are followed by four components of Authentic Leadership:  self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.

This model of leadership reflects someone with integrity and strong values, whose actions and behavior consistently represent those values.  This consistency between “walk and talk” results in a leader who is considered to be “real.”  Therefore, when I look at the definition and descriptions, it appears to me that Authentic Leadership should be an expectation of practice.  In other words, it makes sense that a good leader would be genuine, trustworthy, and consistent, and so it should be something that we would expect from any good leader.  I personally find it a little amusing that being genuine and trustworthy needs to be explicitly expressed as characteristics of a particular leadership style, because I find it hard to believe that anyone wants a leader who is artificial or deceitful.  Be who you really are, be transparent and genuine, be trustworthy; these are attributes which inspire trust, thereby increasing your effectiveness as a leader.  So, regardless of your leadership style, I am of the opinion that Authentic Leadership ought to be integrated into every leader’s practice.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.



Be Consistent

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”  I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine.  The lesson reinforced to me on numerous occasions was that my words – what I say – and my actions – what I do – need to match.  In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader.  I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see.  That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership.  In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds.  Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness.  We disagree.  We believe it is dishonest behavior.  If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through.  The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another.  They are excellent role models for others.  This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores.  That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes.  But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader.  It gives you trust, makes you believable.  John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message.  Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48)  I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived.  In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things.  I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me.  My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I want to go one layer deeper in this principle.  The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are.  In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values.  Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.”  (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are.  It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.