Leadership - what is pulling your strings

Graphic on virtues and vices - authentic leaders
Posted on: Wednesday 19, September 2018
Category: Leadership Development

This article explores authentic leadership and developing a growth mindset approach to achieve high performance (recently updated and republished).

[3 minutes reading time]

Casting your mind back to the somewhat 'dirty' 2016 US election campaign, the day before the election, at a  rally, now former President, Barack Obama said: “There’s a lot about these [Clinton and Trump] campaigns that are not on the level.” I think he succinctly expressed what many people were thinking.

Following on from that election and Brexit in the UK and other more recent world events and political embarrassments etc., integrity, authenticity, and honesty seem missing from some of our world leaders today. Instead, such virtues have been overtaken by the vices of misinformation (fake news), diversion, fear, blame, bitterness, scorn, scandal, elitism and even outright lies (now known as alternative facts). 

The aforementioned leads me to question - shouldn't our leaders be demonstrating more 'grown up' leadership to the world today? And, shouldn't we all be so better than this by now?

I believe that we can (and we should) - primarily as leaders. We certainly have the capacity.  But, to become better, we must first access our true humanity. 

Authentic Leadership

Let's start with a definition - authentic leadership is an approach to leadership growth through honest relationships with others. Authentic leaders seek peoples’ input and are concerned about ethics. They are open leaders, guided by virtues and a growth mindset. (Wikipedia)

To become an authentic leader means inner change and effort. You have to shed your poor behaviours and habits that no longer work for you. And to open up and develop your character to become who you truly are and meant to be. Put simply - to change from vices to virtues.

But to lead with honesty and humility requires a gritty determination. Truly human leadership is a high virtue. You have to earn the right first and work on taming divisive behaviours that get in your way. 

Authentic leadership is also to believe in others and to provide them with a chance because you care about others' success too (it's not just about you). People who feel supported are motivated to do their very best work. (Watch Obama, when US President, talk about 'how one voice can change a room').

So how do you develop authentic leadership?

Here's an excerpt from my latest book about high-performance teamwork to best explain this: I'll begin with inner drives and our shadow side. I'll then talk about how to awaken your authentic self that leads to developing a growth mindset instead.

Inner Drives 

Leadership, and human well-being author, Richard Barrett, states that powerful drives dominate the first part of our lives and early careers:

  1. The survival drive - helps us to protect and defend ourselves.
  2. The social drive - shapes our feelings, attitudes, and relationships towards others.
  3. The self-esteem and ego drive. Ego allows us to get what we want and desire.

Crucially, these drives form the basis of personality style and consciousness too, how we tick and our attitudes to life. Through them, we begin to shape our careers also.

Unmask your Shadow Side

Spiritual Author, Sandra Maitri, believes that unfortunately, these drives also set up our limitations, our habits, vices and shortfalls as well. Sandra calls this your shadow side. They are the 'baser' instincts of our shared humanity, so we all have one. (See graphic below).

The more we are influenced by our shadow side the more this can develop into a fixed mindset later in our lives, which then adversely affects leadership potential.

(Source Developing High Performance Teams by Andrew Jenkins)

Recognise any of these?

The trick is to grow past your shadow side. Left unchecked it shows up as manipulation, blame, over control, fear, dysfunction, and ego. These eventually work into the hallmarks of a fixed mindset. From an authentic leadership viewpoint, these become toxic traits and have no place in high-performance.

However, it’s not all bad news.

Counter-Intuitively, your shadow side and fixed mindset can also form the foundation for authentic leadership to build on later on. By having the courage to tame your shadow side and develop beyond a fixed mindset means that you can learn valuable character lessons and make attitude adjustments along the way. 

For example, how you mastered your ego, dealt with failure, and battled through trials and trouble and so on. It's a journey to reach into your real humanity by attuning to your authentic self. (Perhaps some of our world leaders need to take note here too.)

Leadership Author Steven Synder believes these struggles create the back-story that drives you. 


To unmask your shadow side means your virtues and growth mindset start to shine through.

Awaken Your Authentic Self

I believe we all have an authentic self that calmly waits for the right moment and conditions to begin to nudge us subtly away from our shadow side towards learning how to access a growth mindset instead.

This gentle push is your authentic self, beginning to awaken. It's a natural part of maturity, but you have to take note of this and to intend it. Along with your back-story, and shedding a fixed mindset all help to develop yourself towards a growth mindset instead. That, in turn, helps you to unlock your leadership potential. See graphic below:

(Source Developing High Performance Teams by Andrew Jenkins)

Leading with a growth mindset

"He who reigns within himself and rules his fears is more than a king." (John Milton)

So the hallmark of an authentic leader is the ability to tame your shadow side, to shed a fixed mindset and to learn to lead with one's virtues by developing towards a growth mindset. That feels very different from the reactive nature of one's shadow side. These qualities guide you to find meaning and purpose, to make a difference and to serve to make the world better.

However, today shadow side behaviours and fixed mindset attributes seem widespread, not only in politics, world ecology but, in business too. That said, I still believe that authentic leadership is capable of so much more. It is our inner plumb-line that aligns us to raise the level of humanity to new heights rather than sink to worse lows.

Returning to Barack Obama, when US President he often quoted Dr. King regarding virtue:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ It might feel awfully long, but it does bend."

Authentic leadership has observable behaviour and mindset attributes too. You:

  • become more open and take on wider points of view
  • use humility to serve others, and avoid status and power
  • shun political game playing that promotes self-interest
  • help others to be better and to succeed
  • empathise more and learn compassion
  • encourage people to contribute their ideas and insights
  • take time to think about broader impacts of decisions and actions
  • let go of control and tap into the potential of others
  • care for peoples' growth and development needs - where everybody matters.

Truly Human Leadership

Here's Bob Chapman, Chairman, and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, Co-Author of Everybody Matters. In this short 3 minute video, he talks about his transformation to truly human leadership.


Practical Actions

Invest in emotional intelligence skills, nurture the deeper you. Furthermore, it is the foundation for high-performance teamwork and to create a great workplace culture for your people too.

I suggest you work with a skilled development specialist who can facilitate high performance in your top teams.

Invest in 1-2-1 coaching, it is an effective way to work through your shadow side towards your growth values. 

For more information on how to move a team away from a fixed mindset towards a growth mindset see my new book on Developing High Performance Teams below.

A tool called the Enneagram of personality is also useful for leaders to tease out shadow side issues

But the real test is to apply it effectively day by day and run your business successfully and ethically to make the world better. 


[972 words]

Blog history - updated from original publication12 November 2016 and updated again 28 August 2017.

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Header graphic and all illustrations are my own. Other photos are from creative commons use


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