Insight article

Authenticity in leaders

In the political maelstrom that Britain is currently experiencing, much of the mud-slinging that’s been levelled at the Labour party this week has focused on the PM’s personality and style of leadership. It raises questions for many about leadership communication – how different personal styles influence people, and the importance of authenticity in order to maintain credibility.


There is no doubt that Gordon Brown carries a very different personality and style to his predecessor.  Tony Blair is personable, warm, charming….and could muster up a grin at any given opportunity that any Cheshire cat worth his salt would envy.  At ease in almost any social situation, nobody would be surprised to see him at a pop concert, social event or London fashion week, grinning away heartily as the statesman in touch with his people.  Gordon Brown, on the other hand, is more of an introvert, his passion for his job and all things related hidden behind a grim and sombre veil. The very thought of him lifting the phone to speak to Simon Cowell to enquire after the health of a Britain’s Got Talent contestant (or chortling smilingly away to a stranger’s baby in a photo opportunity) makes us cringe.  It’s so…..not him.

But whatever your political views and personal opinion of our politicians today, it begs the question of whether a good leader has to be an extrovert to be credible and keep people on board in times of change and turmoil. In my view, the answer is no.   Authenticity is what makes people credible, whether shy, quiet and serious, or an ebullient, magnetic and truly charismatic character.  As a leader you will only cut the mustard if your people see you as you really are – not trying to be something you’re not.  Peter Mandelson laid this on thick during an interview with journalist Andrew Marr on Sunday, warning the media not to ‘paint on the personality of a PR machine’ when criticising Mr Brown’s leadership style (although I can’t help observing that he has been at the front of the queue in his own criticism).  Authenticity is everything; in the stories you tell, the manner in which you tell them, your body language and personal style of interaction.

Of course that’s not to say that leadership communication can’t be improved – and training and coaching can do a lot to help.  My colleague Martin may well blush when he reads this, but we are always in awe of his ability to whip away a script and a lectern from every CEO he coaches in presenting their Story, and get them walking up confidently up and down the stage, owning it, talking in simple, personal and conversational terms, and loving the audience response.

But here’s a warning.  If ‘charisma’, ’sunny personality’ and ‘magnetism’ aren’t words that you’d use to describe yourself, don’t try to adopt such traits to get people to follow you.  They’ll follow you if they see that you are sincere, caring, trustworthy, authentic, fair and unprejudiced – and someone who is willing to listen, communicate regularly, honestly and with respect for your people’s opinions as much as giving your own.  Leave the big personality traits to the big personalities.  Good leadership is about depth, honesty and trust.  Politicans take note.

Nailia Tasseel