I recently attended a conference around authenticity in business. There were a range of speakers all offering their view on authenticity in business. I’ll declare now that I can find a lot of these sorts of events slightly superficial as figuring out what makes you truly authentic is a quest. It’s a real deep journey of discovery that requires proper investment of time and challenge to help a person understand who they are.
One of my favourite quotes related to this area is from the author James Allen, who very astutely observed that “circumstances don’t make a man they reveal him”. One of the most honest points of the conference was when one of the speakers said “authenticity is when you are faced with making pay roll and bending your values or sticking to your values.” I got the sense that this person had wrestled with this dilemma on more than one occasion. We’ve all had to face moral dilemmas in our life. The difficulty comes when we lack a reference point for what we define as moral or acceptable.
In my work as a coach I come across lots of individuals and companies that aren’t really sure of what their values are personally or professionally. Without clear values it’s hard to see how someone or an organisation can be deemed to be authentic. Authentic in this instance is defined as ‘based on facts; accurate or reliable’. For instance, we can all think of public figures in the press at this point with spectacular U-turns or faux pas that reveal a different side to these individuals.
Similarly, we’ve also seen examples that Silicon Valley is suffering from displays of sexist and arrogant behaviour that flaunt certain companies’ moral codes and stated values. Commentators are stating that the behaviour is authentic to the individual but not acceptable as a leader. As a consequence these people are being removed. The truth is that at different times we all make mistakes, but we can hold ourselves more accountable if we have a framework to help steer us towards our values and beliefs.
One of the best examples I’ve come across of how to do this in action is the work of Bill George. I was fortunate to see him talk at a conference in London a few years ago and loved his clear message. He talked candidly about his own journey as a leader of a large company where he sold his own personal values and delivered shareholder value. He was fortunate that his wife and family reminded him that this wasn’t who he was. He quit and resolved to get back to what he called his ‘True North’; his core values.
Bill George was offered the chance to action his new approach of values based leadership at a medical technology firm called Medtronic. As CEO, he grew the company’s market cap from $1.1 billion to $60 billion during his tenure. I loved the story because it seems that time and time again we hear of companies selling their values out for short term profit but he put good values at the heart of the business and it paid huge dividends. Interestingly these dividends were across the board with improved patient experience, better staff engagement and massive and sustained increase in turn-over and profit.
After he retired Bill George set about writing, researching and teaching about his experiences. He wrote a best-selling book called True North: Discover your authentic leadership. The book takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery stating that:
‘Once you discover the purpose of your leadership, you'll find the true leader inside you, enabling you to inspire and empower others as authentic leaders. Discover Your True North helps you to stay on track of your True North in today's complex global world by:
· Cultivating self-awareness
· Defining your values
· Finding the "sweet spots" of your motivated capabilities
· Building your support team and leading an integrated life
· Making the journey from "I" to "We" as an empowering leader
· Becoming a global leader’
You can learn more and take a free assessment of your leadership strengths and weaknesses via http://discoveryourtruenorth.org/. Few of us as leaders or humans ever get tested to extremes but this self-assessment and the accompanying exercise serve as a good start point or a reminder to check in with our values and help us set our own True North.
As a coach I can help you on your journey of discovery both personally and professionally. I can work with you and your teams to help set clear a clear purpose for the business along with accompanying values. Feel free to get in touch to see how we could help you. Similar to Bill George’s findings, clients who’ve been through this process with us all remark how liberating and profitable it is.