October 26, 2009

Gusto: An Authentic Mask

Earlier this month, Jim Heskett wrote an article for the HBS Working Knowledge series centered on authentic leadership and the “Masks of Command.”  Jim’s article, which highlights several concepts I also explore in Authentic Leadership, spurred a great conversation.  I wanted to respond to one of the issues raised as a means of continuing the dialogue around authentic leadership, a hugely important issue during this time of economic crisis and political hostility. 

Many of those who made comments asked whether transparency equates to authenticity. They highlight the need for authentic leaders to share with their employees their fears and concerns as often and easily as they share their optimistic projections and commendations.  This transparency, they argue, projects a human quality that employees can understand and follow with confidence.

In many respects I agree.  My experience at Litton, Honeywell, and Medtronic taught me that people are far more interested in heeding forthright and candid leaders, than robotic leaders who recycle high-flying rhetoric and blind optimism.

But, as I explore in 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, just as it’s important for leaders to be transparent and share their concerns in a crisis (particularly their hand in contributing to that crisis), it is equally important that they then make an about face and project confidence, both internally and externally, in leading the company forward.

Exuberant confidence may sometimes overshadow internal doubts, but this does not create a compromise of authenticity.  Leading with gusto is simply a necessity of strong leadership in a crisis.