· Features

How to be an authentic leader

In many organisations our values and personality seem to be left at the door. When it comes to leadership, this can lead to a distorted culture.

Taking on the mantle of ‘leader’ of a country, team, community or organisation brings a responsibility to care about the wellbeing of the group being led; to provide them with a positive unifying influence.

The key to this is our willingness to be more human, more ourselves, more authentic and, as a result, humanise our organisations, and suffuse our actions with genuine meaning and purpose.

However, in many organisations our values are put aside. Work is work – the tough business of survival – and our values, like our appreciation of art or literature, are to be left at the door and collected on the way out.

A quick internet search will reveal scores of websites sporting ethical credentials and philosophies that position quality and best practice at the heart of their companies. However, these often have very little to do with the actual day-to-day workplace.

An organisation that might aspire through its values to treat others with respect may unwittingly create a culture that is far from respectful. We’ve all worked in places where ‘what it says on the tin’ doesn’t apply in reality.

The truth is that without mindful and reflective leaders at the core of business, many of our organisations can become distorted. In a very real sense, they are becoming sick.

But how does this happen? How is it that some of us so easily leave our humanity at the door when we walk into an organisation? If we leave what’s richest about us out of our workplace, what or who do we bring in?

Keeping back a part of us from work – far from saving the best bit of us for friends, family or outside interests – has the reverse effect. We end up leading fragmented lives, which are dissatisfied and frustrated.

Effectively we break off large and small bits of ourselves, and then play a specific role depending on the context we’re in. We are never fully ourselves. Do any of us really want to work in an organisation where we feel we can’t be ourselves? We may be successful, we may be able to section ourselves off, but it’s a fragmented way to live and takes a lot of emotional and physical energy.

At my organisation, we never employ people and then try to make them fit some corporate ‘norm’. This is borne out by the variety of people and characters we have: their backgrounds, beliefs, education, class, personality traits – even their fashion preferences.

There is never the sense that you have to be a certain type of person to do a particular role, develop or progress. We don’t limit people by who we think they are or where they might best fit. We’re interested in the human being behind all of that. This is reflected in the focus of our training and development, where we encourage people to be mindful, present, self-aware, mature leaders with a clear purpose.

Surely it’s important that people are encouraged not to fake it, not to play at being an employee or to act out a fantasy projection of what they believe the company wants them to be? Of course, we fulfil roles in all kinds of ways, but there are authentic and inauthentic ways of doing that.

Neil Hope is joint managing director of HOME Fundraising