Authentic Leadership and What It Means for Women

Authentic Leadership and What It Means for Women

As part of West Monroe Partners’ membership with Ellevate Network, I had the opportunity to virtually attend the recent summit titled “Mobilizing the Power of Women.” For those who are not familiar, Ellevate is a professional women’s network dedicated to closing the gender achievement gap in business by providing women with a community to lean on and learn from. In this blog, I will share with you more detail on what the summit was about and provide connections between key takeaways and the Authentic Leadership theory.

What was the summit?

Held on Wednesday, June 21 and hosted in New York, Mobilizing the Power of Women was Ellevate’s first ever annual summit. The event was organized as a forum for discussing issues related to the gender achievement gap and was focused on highlighting actionable solutions.

The day was filled with an array of thought leaders, activists, and business leaders who weighed in on important topics including courage, collaboration, innovation, storytelling, inclusion and diversity, and creating change. Throughout many of the conversations, a key theme emerged: the importance of being true to oneself. Many of the women spoke about how finding and listening to their “inner voice”, or in other words, their values, helped them to achieve meaningful success.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and the Craig Newmark Foundation, started the conversation with his talk, “Leading With Your Values.” Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, a non-profit dedicated to the support of women survivors of war, poverty and injustice, summed it up well when she said, “We need to lead and speak as women from the core of our values, our authenticity.” Erika Ervin, better known as Amazon Eve, also invigorated the conversation about being true to yourself in her talk titled “Owning Your Superpower.” Founder and CEO of People’s Revolution, a fashion and lifestyle PR/brand strategy firm, Kelly Cutrone, spoke about listening to her “inner voice” and said “that voice has allowed me to make the moves that have made the company great.” After listening to the speakers, I was reminded of my studies on the Authentic Leadership theory.

What is Authentic Leadership?

In 2003, Bill George wrote his book introducing the theory of Authentic Leadership. In it, he outlined five qualities that authentic leaders demonstrate. These are:

  1. Understanding their purpose
  2. Practicing solid values
  3. Leading with heart
  4. Establishing connected relationships
  5. Demonstrating self-discipline

Among these, 1-3 align most with what was discussed during the summit. George elaborates in the book with the following explanation:

“The values of the authentic leader are shaped by personal beliefs, developed through study, introspection, and consultation with others…These values define their holder’s moral compass. Such Leaders know the ‘true north’ of their compass, the deep sense of the right thing to do” (20).

This provides a good description of how I interpreted the meaning of the “inner voice” and the message of being true to oneself. It is essential for authentic leaders to be guided by passion and lead with purpose, meaning, and values.

Leaders who adopt this style see a variety of individual and organizational benefits. The focus on integrity, genuineness, and perspective-taking that are also part of Authentic Leadership foster supportive and inclusive environments. This allows for a greater level of engagement, increased productivity, a healthy level of risk-taking, and focused energy into things like creativity and innovation. Authenticity is also fundamental to building trust, which is key to wellbeing and performance in the workplace. With these profound benefits, it’s easy to see why Harvard Business Review declared Authentic Leadership “the gold standard for leadership” in January 2015.

What does this mean for women?

If you take the women speaking at the summit as a sample group, it’s clear that authentic leadership is an empowering style for women.

I wonder how many other women may have found success through an authentic leadership style. I can’t help but wonder, at the same time, how this all correlates to the staggering statistics being published about how organizations with female leaders produce better business performance. Perhaps I’ll save that question for another post…

In any case, it will be interesting to see what further research tells us about female leadership and the most effective styles for women to close the gender achievement gap in business. For now, what I gleaned from the event was that women should lead in ways that are true to themselves. This means contributing our unique female perspectives to our leadership roles. If the success of the women at the summit tells us anything, it’s that the power of women can be mobilized through Authentic Leadership.

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