Are You An Authentic Leader?

Taking The Quality Approach, Focusing Interactions Eyed

Posted: April 29, 2014

An article in the April issue of T&D (Training and Development) asserts that a number of people who are called “leaders” are only “artificial leaders” rather than “authentic leaders,” and there is a world of difference between the two.

The article describes some warning signs that help a leader decide which type of leadership she is providing.

Artificial leaders think they have the right answer — even though they might not verbalize it — and on the rare occasions when they do apologize, they try to make it seem like they’re being humble. In contrast, authentic leaders realize they don’t have all the answers, always apologize when it’s appropriate, and don’t need to be seen or heard.

Artificial leaders show respect only when it’s to their advantage, and they don’t hesitate to take “cheap shots” in meetings by making condescending comments about individuals or groups. Authentic leaders consistently respect others, and readily give credit to those who deserve it.

Because they think they have all the answers, artificial leaders don’t want to waste time partnering with others, thereby failing to consult the experts when it’s needed, and reducing productivity in the process. Authentic leaders welcome dialogue, making sure that all voices are heard, and establishing common ground with others. 

In short, the artificial leader is perhaps a manager who considers himself a leader, but who is not much of a leader at all. The result will be a level of productivity that is less than it could be, and a workforce that is not very committed.  

Create A Culture Of Quality 

While the emphasis on quality has been consistent during the past 30 years, the approaches to it have clearly varied.  According to the April issue of Harvard Business Review, organizations must create a “culture of quality,” and doing so requires that four essential attributes be present.

One attribute is a clear emphasis on quality by the company’s leadership.  While such emphasis may start with official pronouncements, they will be utterly meaningless unless leaders’ actions match what they say.  In addition to “walking the walk,” leaders must make sure that their evaluations of employees include quality.

Another essential attribute is message credibility.  Messages about the importance of quality must be credible, and should be customized to the messages’ receivers.

Depending on an employee’s role in the organization, some messages about quality might emphasize the reduced cost and hassles of producing defect-free goods, while other messages might stress customer satisfaction.

A third attribute is peer involvement.  Fostering such engagement requires exactly the right involvement on the part of management — which must not become overly involved in orchestration, while making sure that they avoid showing too little support. Once peers start holding one another accountable for quality, the process really “takes off.”

The final attribute is employee ownership. This requires workers to clearly understand how quality fits with their jobs, and once that’s been achieved, workers should be empowered to make quality decisions and raise concerns about quality violations. The result of the above attributes will be a workforce that embraces quality as a core value that will provide their company an important competitive advantage.

Making A Focused Effort

Use focus groups to get information that’s critical to business needs. The hyper-competitive nature of today’s business environment often requires the acquisition of critical information on very short notice. 

As explained in the March/April issue of Training Magazine, focus groups are an excellent way to collect such information. A focus group is a group interview — “with a purpose” — which identifies ideas, opinions, and issues. Most focus groups consist of five to 10 members, all of whom are expected to contribute, and like any business meeting, a focus group has an objective, agenda, and next steps.

The key to success when using focus groups is the creation of questions to ask the focus group.  Such questions should provide the sought information, rather than simply information that may be “good to know.” 

Keep the questions simple, use understandable language, and avoid jargon.  Make sure that the questions pertain to one idea, with none of the questions containing an “and” or an “or.” 

Finally, use open-ended questions because they will generate discussion, and will delineate differing points of view.

Philip B. DuBose is a management professor at the James Madison University College of Business.