‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway,’ Eleanor Roosevelt
One of the most challenging things about leading an organisation, regardless of its size, is knowing what kind of leader you are or want to be.
The idea of an authoritarian father figure or the (not so-) benevolent dictator is thankfully more of a thing of the past. Most creative or forward-thinking companies have softer lines between the hierarchies. But, with flatter structures come new challenges.
How can we inspire and influence our staff? Particularly at times of change or disruption? In the not-for-profit sector, where people are motivated less by money and more by the pursuit of their personal ideals, authentic leadership is key.
So, what are the core traits of the authentic leader and how can we develop them?
The Forbes Top Ten tips on being a great leader lists honesty at number one. That sounds simple enough, but there are times when full disclosure might not help the situation.
That’s where building your intuitive skills comes into play. It takes huge amounts of confidence to really ‘go with your gut’ and surprisingly, it’s a trait that can be learnt, often from unexpected sources — in this case horses!
Apparently, horses respond very favourably to authentic intention but tend to intuitively ignore a lack of real belief. I find this a fascinating concept as what you actually say has no impact (as far as I know horses don’t speak English or any other language come to think of it). The truth is that actions do speak louder than words: and while results count, it’s the quality of our intention that has the power to inspire others.
Achieving buy-in from staff and colleagues, particularly if it involves exploring unknown, potentially risky territory, requires us to develop our powers of influence. This is not something we can hope to achieve by barking out orders — it’s a far more subtle and cumulative process.
Like horses, I think people also intuitively sense integrity and by extension a lack of it, whether face-to-face or online. As a leader ask yourself who you admire? Who would you follow? And what would it take to get you there?
As another ex-First Lady Rosalynn Carter says: ‘A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.’