Authentic Leadership: Leading and Living by Example

Melanie Glickman, a Goethe Business School alumna, collaborates with Leadership Sculptor GmbH and delivers training courses around the world. She shares her insights about key leadership qualities and the importance of leading with authenticity.

There are many ways to understand leadership. How would you define it?

While many scholars and authors convey their views about successful leaders, the term “leadership” is often difficult to define. Stephen Covey claimed effective leadership meant “putting first things first.” Colin Powell believed leadership was about “solving problems”. And Peter Drucker considered a leader merely as “someone who has followers.” Although these explanations capture part of the picture, I believe they’re incomplete. Admittedly, it’s challenging to define leadership in a few words.

I’m quite fond of the definition used by my colleague and mentor CJ Fitzsimons, who founded Leadership Sculptor GmbH. He believes that, for excellent leadership to be sustainable over time, it must involve a dynamic balance between two key elements. In essence, it’s “the art of influencing others to reach a common goal or vision” while also “taking care of the needs and development of everyone involved.”

When I studied at Goethe Business School, I was working in Asset Management and led a diverse team across the globe. I saw firsthand how leadership involved more than just focusing on goals to get things done, which was what I’d previously had as a primary focus. Once I started to incorporate more of the second element – namely, taking care of my team’s needs and development – then the results really started to shine. We were much more productive; the environment was more collaborative, too.

While defining leadership may be a foundational first step, learning to apply it is a continuous process. And that’s what I particularly enjoyed about my MBA studies. I learned theoretical models and practical tools to hone my leadership skills in real-time.

Many different factors impact a leader’s output. What do you think are the key factors?

Leadership involves a combination of things. Any change to one of those key factors could change the leader’s output in terms of style and results.

When I deliver courses with Leadership Sculptor, we often present the “Leadership Profile” to highlight that point. It features the following key elements.

  • Job: Depending on your role in the company, you’ll have specific tasks that are different from others who have other roles. If you get promoted at your company, this part of your Leadership Profile may need to change to incorporate the new tasks you’ll need to address.
  • Team: You’ll need to consider how to manage your team’s dynamics, delegate tasks to your team members based on their skills or abilities and solicit feedback on a regular basis. If you lead several teams, each may require different input from you.
  • Organization: Where you work impacts your Leadership Profile, as each company operates in a unique way with its own processes and procedures. In addition, you’ll likely be impacted by the company’s corporate culture. This includes not only the values espoused by management but also the norms and taboos that are present at various levels.
  • Environment: There are factors external to your organization that also impact how you do your work. Some of these environmental factors may include clients, suppliers, competitors, laws and regulations, practices of your particular industry, and society overall.
  • Personality: You’ve got your own unique way of being, and your personality – or “how you tick” – influences what strengths and abilities you bring to your work. You’ll also want to consider the possible derailers that may sabotage your success. By increasing your emotional intelligence, you’ll have a greater chance to leverage your leadership qualities for a competitive edge.

These five elements comprise your Leadership Profile, so a change to any one of them will change how you lead. And since leaders experience change quite regularly, I’d recommend to pause in order to reflect on your contributing factors at key pivot points in your career.

As a leadership trainer, you’ve been delivering leadership courses for over a decade. What do you think makes a good leader?

There are many qualities, so there’s really no “one size fits all” answer to that question. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to work for or with excellent leaders, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Some leaders might be outstanding speakers who use their intuition and act as role models. Others might be great listeners who offer opportunities and develop their people. Still others may be exceptional planners who monitor progress and re-plan effectively. In fact, there’s a whole slew of qualities that can combine to make a good leader.

Most qualities of excellent leaders are teachable or learnable. The good news is that, if you want to master additional skills, it’s possible to add to your existing leadership toolkit. You may wish to further your education by taking one of the programs offered by Goethe Business School. You could also attend a leadership workshop, hire a leadership coach, or solicit input from a trusted mentor.

I’d like to add one final point about a key quality that’s often underestimated and yet is essential for effective leadership – and that’s taking responsibility. When someone in a leadership role takes credit when things are running smoothly but blames others when things aren’t, then they’re acting in their own interest and not looking after the team. A true leader shares credit when things work well and takes responsibility to “own up” when things haven’t gone according to plan.

How can a leader stay true to their own qualities and still adapt to whatever challenges they may face?

I’m a firm believer in the power of authenticity. Everyone is different and being a leader doesn’t mean you have to put on a front or pretend to be someone else. If you stay true to your individual personality and values, it gives you greater strength. So even if you face challenges that feel insurmountable, being congruent with your true authentic self supports you to act with integrity and decisiveness.

That’s a good starting point for increasing your emotional intelligence, which is sometimes referred to as EQ. It’s more than just being aware of your strengths and derailers. It involves managing yourself to adapt to whatever you’re experiencing and also means you’re dealing with others in an empathetic and judicious way. By increasing your emotional intelligence, you’re growing in your capacity as an authentic, inspirational leader.

Growth in leadership is a continuous process. The most skillful leaders I know solicit feedback from others and focus on self-reflection. Because with increased awareness, things that previously weren’t on the radar can be illuminated and addressed. Being open to challenges and looking at things in innovative ways helps you to be resilient and face new situations successfully. There will always be new leadership challenges and there’s always more to learn. And great leaders can do just that – they learn, adapt to changing environments, and remain authentic along the way.