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It was a pleasure to present my book Yours Truly: Staying Authentic in Leadership and Life at the HR and the Future of Work Conference in Sofia and share stage with Dave Ulrich, one of the most influential thinkers in HR and Leadership.

Here is my interview with Dimita Pizhev from Capital Magazine

Ms. Mayo, what does authentic leadership mean exactly?

Authentic leadership is not just about being yourself, but also growing into yourself and being true to others. It’s a work in progress that involves others. Authentic leaders embrace a process of emotional, behavioral, and social enrichment in order to win the hearts of others, set the habit of learning, and build harmony between themselves and others.  

What personally attracted your attention to this topic and why do you think it is important both from an individual and organizational perspective?

 I´ve been reflecting on the role of leaders in business and society for two decades.

In that time, I have been encouraged by the many stories I´ve heard from a variety of leaders during my personal experience teaching and consulting executives. It is moving to find that some of the most authentic leaders are often people on one has heard of.

I believe their stories are a mirror in which we can see the best of ourselves.  

 All the stories featured in my new book “Your Truly: Staying Authentic in Leadership and Life” (Bloomsbury, 2018) touched me personally.

Perhaps the story of PERI, a multinational construction company, is the most emotive for me because it goes back to my upbringing. Every morning my father left home at seven to work on a construction site, hanging on to unsafe scaffolding. When I heard from PERI´s executives about their commitment to safety and the well-being of their workforce, I wished my father could have worked for a company like that.

 Authenticity is important for the individual and the organization because authentic people experience greater well-being. I recently surveyed more than one hundred MBA students at IE Business School on their authenticity and the findings point to the fact that authentic people experience less stress and more happiness.

In your opinion, what does it take to become an authentic leader who people want to follow?

To become and, more importantly, stay authentic in leadership and life involves three competencies: Heartfelt Authenticity, the Habit of Learning and Harmony between the Self and Others.

This is what I call the “3 H´s of Authentic Leadership: Heart, Habit and Harmony.” I encourage you to explore these three areas in your leadership to help identify attitudes and behaviors that will enable you to become authentic and remain so over time.

Heart – This is the emotional factor that characterizes authentic leaders. Learn to look inside yourself to find and cultivate your passion.

Habit – The habit of learning is the key behavioral element of authentic leaders. Seek out honest feedback and make learning a habit.

Harmony – This is the final characteristic of authentic leaders that guarantees the social enrichment of authentic organizations. Look after others.

 What are the biggest misunderstandings about authentic leadership?

It is a fashionable concept, authentic leadership. For most people, it means that leaders must be true to themselves.

The underlying assumption is that authenticity is unchanging and individual, a matter of personal choice and belief. This is the biggest misunderstanding about authentic leadership.

My research suggests that behind authenticity lie powerful and largely ignored dynamic social forces and contradictions. Authenticity is not simply being true to oneself, but also means being true to the protean, evolving and social self.

 Authentic leadership can never be static or self-interested.

If it is to be truly successful it is grounded, but continually evolving and cooperative. If you want to develop and harness your authentic power, understanding the multidimensional, evolving and social process to authenticity is key. Authenticity is not simple about expressing your ´true´ self. Instead, it involves resolving three authenticity paradoxes.

What are the best and most efficient steps that a company can undertake to implement authentic leadership in its ranks?

Companies can implement authentic leadership in its ranks developing 3 authenticity practices that I explain in my book:

First, emotional authenticity practices include ways to increase self-awareness through unbiased processing of your strengths and weaknesses, cultivating your passion and transmitting it to others with humility.

Second, behavioral authenticity practices mean acting in accord with your own principles while setting the habit of changing by fostering an optimistic outlook and staying in control of your destiny.

Third, social authenticity practices are ways to build authentic organizations with a caring mentality and collective identity, creating a community that changes with the times and achieving a balance between agency and communion.

How can managers turn authentic leadership into a strategy?

Managers can turn authentic leadership into a strategy following three simple rules:

  • Leading by Example: Building authentic structures by and for people.
  • Creating a Community: Fostering a community that allows your employees to express their authenticity within the normal constrains of organizational life.
  • Keeping in mind your Legacy: Leading with a social purpose.

So much has changed in the world of business in the past several years. What do you think are the most important qualities that authentic leaders must possess today?

In the world of business today, one of the most pressing issues managers face is a lack of trust in our leaders.

The business world has become more dynamic, complex, and informal.

Millennials demand a leader whom they can trust, someone who is humble, has a balanced view of their strengths and limitations, recognizes the contributions of others and is open to new ideas and feedback.

How does authentic leadership improve employee engagement and motivation? And what is its effect on the business growth of an organization?

 Several studies show that people like to follow a leader whom they perceive as authentic.

For example, a study led by Bradley Owens found that when leaders show humility by recognizing the strengths and contributions of others, rather than taking all the credit for success themselves, their employees reported higher engagement. 

In another study, my research team examined how building an authentic organization is not only good for employees, but it can also benefit the firm as a whole. We showed that companies can “do well by doing good” -implementing work-life policies for employees´ well-being ultimately increased business competitiveness as indexed by sales growth.

How does authentic leadership relate to inclusion and diversity? How does these areas influence each other?

Authentic leaders have the charisma to make people diversity blind to demographic differences such as gender and race when they are not related to the task at hand.

The key lesson is that authentic leaders who go beyond their self-interest for the good of the group can inspire diversity blindness to some extent, avoiding negative biases and promoting exchange of information in demographically diverse teams.

How can a manager self-assess whether they are an authentic leader?

In my book, you can find self-assessment tools to evaluate the extent to which you are an authentic leader in three different areas: Heart Authenticity, Habit Authenticity, and Harmony Authenticity.

For example, you will find a quiz to diagnose whether you are an authentic leader in your organization –  Does your company make a point of letting employees know how much it truly cares about them? Are the things you value in life like the things your company values? And is your organization concerned for the welfare of others and the environment?

Give some examples of real-life authentic leaders. Who are they and why do you think they are authentic leaders?

Richard Branson is a great example of Heart Authenticity. He is widely considered one of the most important entrepreneurs of the last century. Not just because of the breath and success of his entrepreneurial activities; but because he is known as somebody who puts his heart into his business.

 In 2015, Amancio Ortega –the creator of global fashion retailer Inditex which owns Zara, briefly overtook Bill Gates as the second-richest man in the world. Amancio Ortega illustrates the principle of Habit Authenticity. He said: “I never allow myself to be content with what I have done, I have always tried to instill this is everyone around me.”

 Google CEO Sunder Pichai´s meteoritic rise surprised many. His leadership mantra is an example of Harmony Authenticity –“As a leader, a lot of your job is to make those people successful.”

Margarita Mayo

I´m Margarita Mayo. I´ve been a Professor of Leadership and Psychology at IE Business School since 2000. Prior to that I was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard University and professor at Ivey Business School. I feel passionate about scientific dissemination, and I have more than 20 years of international experience teaching courses on soft skills, giving keynote conferences and coaching executives on leadership development and change management. Always eager to help develop the next generation of leaders.

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