We have been through different phases of leadership in history. Leaders are important because most people love to be lead. Most of us do not want to take responsibility, we want someone else to do it. History proves that we are willing to trade all sorts of longer term risk for short term comfort.
By far the historically dominant style has been the autocratic, dominating style where a powerful personality (often narcissistic or even psychopathic) attracts followership through a combination of bribery (usually a combination of status and wealth) and intimidation.
This style of leadership has been deployed in politics, religion, business and other areas. It is effective in enriching the dominant group, usually at the expense of the wider population. It often leads to conflict both internally and externally as “players” vie for the right to exploit.
These individuals and their immediate team will often have deep rooted character flaws, established in childhood, which allow them to believe that they are better than others. They will lack the self awareness to understand their impact on others and will have well honed techniques for coercion and persuasion that enable them to get their way. They can appear effective in a highly competitive situation, but will always borrow or steal from the future and the net cost will outweigh the benefits. Our boom and bust economics and climate change are both consequences of stealing from the future.
Also significant are the charismatic leaders who while essentially selfish and short term in their thinking achieve their success through charisma and charm rather than intimidation and bribery. Charismatic leaders have greater self awareness and skill and will tend to prefer relationships and intrigues over outright conflict as ways of achieving their goals.
Where autocrats will see a leadership position as birthright, charismatics will see it as a competition to be won. Our democratic system works well for charismatics as we frequently vote for people we find charming. It is worth bearing in mind that autocrats are adept at looking like charismatics from a distance.
Historically there are far fewer authentic leaders who have emerged, occasionally, in spite of their times. Today with far better and more widespread education and awareness of the true nature of our challenges authentics are emerging more frequently as the safer, long term bet, in spite of some shorter term discomfort.
The big difference with authentics is self awareness and self regulation. Authenticity is not an excuse for poor behaviour. Authenticity requires deep introspection and a continued working out of character flaws.
Authentic leaders add responsibility to self awareness. Authentic leaders are willing to take responsibility for a long term greater good often at personal risk or cost. Authentics are willing to listen and take feedback on their own behaviour, they are also willing to listen and include in order to understand a situation. The shift to leadership comes when having listened and understood, they are willing to take a stand and inspire others to follow a course of action.
Authentic leaders achieve their success encouraging and empowering others to succeed as their true authentic selves, unlike autocrats or charismatics who see the success of others as unwanted competition. The feeling of working for an authentic leader is one of growth and confidence in contrast to the swings between pride and fear with autocrats and charismatics.
Leaders always effect change. If things are not changing then leadership is not happening, if leadership is happening, things are changing. However these days change is often not enough and what is required is transformation. No leader can create transformation in an organisation on their own. They will require a team of other transformational leaders to effect the change.
Part of what makes an effective leader is the ability to attract, select and inspire a talented and effective team. In transformation that team have to also be capable of leading transformation and collaborating effectively to develop and execute a plan.
It takes courage to make the choice to lead authentically and typically authentic leaders are driven more by a need to make things better for the greater good than for personal gain. The first step to authentic leadership is self awareness and self regulation. The second step is finding collaborators who can form a team and define a course or cause. The third step is to do act.
Holos has a vision to contribute to making holistic leadership ubiquitous in our society within 175 years. We want to see this kind of leadership taught in schools and deployed for the good of society in business, politics and the public sector.
Holos believes that “Change is Easy” or at least it can be when it is done well. Holos has the resources and the skill to help organisations of any size to flourish in the future.
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