Becoming an Authentic Leader

Our very own Kristian Trend, Committee Member of the Emerging Workplace Leaders and Account Manager for Sodexo gives us a fantastic narrative on what it is, and what it means to become an Authentic Leader.

Authenticity is a rare commodity in the modern world. Everyone is busy trying to be somebody or something. People feel like they must appear a certain way to fit in. Look no further than social media for evidence of people ‘Living their best life’ or at least nurturing their audience’s perception of doing so.

In the West in particular, ‘fitting in’ with the norms and values of society is regarded (rightly or wrongly), as being paramount to becoming a well-adjusted individual.

Against a backdrop of us all mirroring each other’s behaviours, choices and decisions; it should come as no surprise that we are widely regarded as being in the midst of a leadership crisis. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that “18% of managers demonstrate a high level of talent for leading people” or to put it another way, 82% of managers are not very good at leading people.

This crisis is not unique to the corporate world; it crosses our global institutions and governance. A 2015 survey on the ‘Outlook for the Global Agenda’ found that a staggering 86% of those surveyed agreed that we have a crisis in leadership in the world.

There are several reasons attributed to this crisis. One reason is that managers are often promoted based on their tenure or previous managerial roles. Another is that leadership courses are failing to put enough focus on soft skills and are often aimed at those already in senior leadership roles who are perhaps already set in their ways and harder to shape. The perception in almost every sector, except for maybe relatively young creative/tech companies, is that senior leaders are expected to be in there mid 50’s and 60’s.

It will become increasingly important for organisations to identify and fast track talent sooner than they ever have done before

Kristian Trend

Truth be told, in a fast-changing world in which the rate of technological transformation is speeding up not slowing down, it will become increasingly important for organisations to identify and fast track talent sooner than they ever have done before. This will bring a new emphasis on talent who exemplify soft skills and emotional intelligence and not solely technical expertise or commercial acumen. It is the soft skills element of the equation to which people align to, to which they want to be led by.

People want leaders they can trust, leaders who are compassionate, leaders who communicate clearly and honestly with them. This can be summed up in one word ….. being Authentic!

Authenticity will mean different thing to different people. A big part of being more authentic is becoming the same person in work as you are out of work. As an aspiring young leader myself, and member of the Emerging Workplace Leaders which is an organisation setup to give aspiring talent a platform in the FM sector, I use the word ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’, deliberately. This is because I see this personally as more of a process than an accomplished destination I have already arrived at.

I would like to share with you an example from my own life…

For many years I was not out as being gay at work. In fact, I did not fully come out at work until over 10 years after coming out to friends and family. Although I knew that society had moved on significantly, and particularly working for a large multinational company, I had nothing to fear, I still rationalised not coming out. My excuses were numerous but largely centred around my drive for progression. I did not want anyone in my team, some of whom were devout in their religious beliefs, to respect me any less as a leader or to take my instructions less seriously or even to impact the overall performance of the team. I also thought that even in a multinational company, there could still be pockets of hidden prejudice, individuals who mouth the values of equality and diversity, yet deep down do not believe in it. All of this meant that even if there was only a small chance that it would affect my progression opportunities, I was not prepared to take it.

However, I then became aware of the concept of Authentic Leadership which explained that for people to buy into your vision, it is important they believe in what you stand for. It made me think and ask myself the following questions –

  • How can people truly buy into my vision whilst I still hold so much back about myself?
  • Do people really care that much about my sexuality?
  • What if it were only 1 person in 100 who thought less of me? Or even 1 in 1000? Or what if no one at all?
  • What if by not being my true self I am selling myself short?
  • What if people see that I am not being authentic and that has a detrimental impact on my long-term leadership potential?

In the following days, I decided to not only meet with all my team to “come out” but brought it up at a presentation I was giving on career development to Sodexo’s middle management talent pool. After which I received a message from an attendee to say I had inspired them to do the same thing in their workplace!

This experience left me feeling relieved and energised and I realised that by being vulnerable, people respected me more, not less.

To summarise, if we commit to reviewing our own authenticity and work together to give aspiring talent a greater voice and put more focus on soft skill development; then I believe that this perceived leadership crisis that we are living through, would quickly evaporate.

What can you do to become an Authentic Leader? If you are looking for any support or guidance, feel free to reach out to Kristian or any of the other committee members who will be more than happy to spare some time for a quick chat!

One thought on “Becoming an Authentic Leader

  1. Well done Kristian – great article and pleased you were able to be your true self in your home and work life!


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