“The journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life.” – Bill George
In Bill George’s research of effective leaders, he and his team went into the project planning to discover a list of skills and attributes that the best leaders have. What they found, instead, is that there is no cookie-cutter leader. Every leader is unique.
What the most effective leaders have in common is a deep level of self-awareness—they know their strengths and weaknesses, values, and intrinsic motivations. They intentionally activate their strengths, and they behave consistently with their values and convictions. In short, they are authentic—genuine, not a copy.
One thing that emerged in George’s research is a profound appreciation for the life stories of his interviewees and the crystallizing insight that a leader’s “journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life.” The leaders he interviewed could all trace their leadership philosophies to their life experiences. What they believe about leadership–and how they lead–is most evident in their transformative life moments.
You, also, can press forward on this journey to authentic leadership by examining your life. In doing so, you illuminate your values, your unique strengths and qualities, and what energizes and inspires you. This clarity lights our path forward. And we can step more boldly into being our authentic, best selves.
Author’s Note: In 2009, I had the privilege of participating in an Authentic Leadership Development program with Nick Craig during which we reflected on our life experiences as a vehicle to clarify our values, unique strengths, and purpose as leaders. It was an incredible learning experience for me—and the moment when I really understood that self-awareness is a team sport (boy did I have a great small group). I also had the opportunity to coach MBA students for a year at the Harvard Business School in the Authentic Leadership Development elective under the leadership of Scott Snook and then Amy Edmondson, which further reinforced for me how valuable this work is. The elective followed the concept laid out so nicely by Nick Craig, Bill George, and Scott Snook in The Discover Your True North Field Book (2015). I cannot imagine being the leader I am becoming today without having had those experiences, and I highly recommend every leader create the space and focus to do something similar.
Some More Resources: Nick Craig’s Core Leadership Institute and his book, Leading From Purpose. Nick Craig and Scott Snook’s HBR Article, “From Purpose to Impact.” And Bill George’s Discover Your True North.