Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can Economic Developers Be Authentic Leaders?

In my own life, being authentic has become much more important. Why? Because that is what we are supposed to do in life; we are supposed to be real.

Authenticity is not a skill you can simply pick up at a weekend seminar, and then go home and use it like the new barbeque grill you bought. Authenticity is about how you lead your life everyday. It is about being true to yourself and others. It is about knowing who you really are and knowing how to use your unique and special gifts to serve others.

I get disgusted with myself when I pretend to be something that I'm not. I don't like myself when I am anything less than real. It also frustrates me to see this behavior in others. There is too much pretending in the world. Yes, people get too caught up in playing their roles and they forget who they really are. I see it everyday in economic development.

I was talking with a colleague the other day about authentic leadership. He raised a very important point that many people raise about their own ability to lead authentically. His point was: "People play roles in their work, in part to protect themselves, but also because everybody else plasy roles. There is a price to pay for not playing along, even though we don't want to." I agree with your my friend, but I think there is a different price we should be even more concerned about. There is a price to pay for not being real. That price is we lose our true identity and we perpetuate the hoax that people cannot be authentic in their work.

Can economic developers become authentic leaders? I believe they can, but they must be willing to reshape themselves in line with their true nature. What could motivate economic developers to become more authentic leaders? Read on.

I read a recent article on authentic leadership by Jeff Yergler, the Principal of Integer Leadership Consulting. It impressed me because it laid wide open the real issues surrounding authentic leadership--something much talked about but less often done by business, government, educational and community leaders.

What motivates leaders to seek authenticity? Here are the reasons identified by Yergler:

  • A sense of emptiness and meaninglessness in one's work in general and one's work within the organization in particular.
  • Frustration over the need to "be someone they are not" in and beyond the organization.
  • The inward desire to lead more humanely and supportively with and for others.
  • A personal failure that points to a discrepancy or an incongruence between who one is and who one purports to be.
  • An organizational failure that causes a crisis of self-worth and confidence.
  • A passion to create a change within the organizational culture that begins with an accepted change in oneself (especially for executives who realize that they must act first if anything is going to shift).

Read Yergler's article here.

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