Through 12,000 years of civilization, myriad people known as leaders convinced others their personality was worth following – for survival, financial gain or otherwise. Despite many different leaders, there appears to be no single personality trait which determines whether one becomes a leader or a follower.
Consider the trait “outgoing,” a quality often attributed to leaders. That statement alone raises some questions:
· Is being outgoing always a positive characteristic? (Not necessarily).
· Are there not countless examples of great, quiet – nearly shy – leaders? (There are).
South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon, the new head of the United Nations, is described by many as “shy.” The former head, Kofi Annan, was anything but shy, generally regarded as outgoing. How can opposable personality traits be found in two different people that hold the same high-profile, high-pressure position?
Regardless of personality, they are different people with different life experiences. As the novelist John Barth once wrote, “The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.” Becoming a great leader requires more than a compulsory personality trait; rather, it calls for years of broadening experiences that shape and guide.
If being a leader is based on personal life experience, imitating another leaders’ style cannot be deemed true leadership. “No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, though there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them.”1 Leadership, then, is based on a sense of heightened self awareness, a discovery of one’s “Authentic Self.”
To become authentic, find out what truly motivates you. Essentially, there are two types of motivation:
· Extrinsic: Achievements easily measured relative to the outside world, including recognition, status or financial rewards.
· Intrinsic: Forces closely linked to one’s life story and the way one frames it. This includes personal growth, the development of others, social causes and making a difference in the world.2
Even if largely intrinsic, most people value some extrinsic motivators. It is naïve to deny a well-earned reward like a comfortable home or new car. True leaders, though, find extrinsic motivators alone are often not as rewarding as personal intrinsic motivators. These are more aligned with personal values and lead to long-term, maximum fulfillment.
The product of this alignment, then, is a balance of what one truly values: family, community and friends in harmony with work and career – enabling one to be the same person in each environment. Remember, a true leader does not exhibit a universal personality trait; rather they exhibit their authentic self, consistently. How effective would a leader be if they were their Authentic Self only half the time at work? Or less? Others quickly perceive this as a transparent effort, and the initial effectiveness is difficult to sustain.
A leader achieves true satisfaction easier by living one’s story in all he or she does, and providing a better environment for followers and subsequent leaders alike. Having set a good example, the next-generation leader naturally emerges as an “Authentic Self.”
1 George, Bill, Sims, Peter, McLean, Andrew N., Mayer, Diana. Discovering Your Authentic Leadership. Harvard Business Review. Feburary, 2007.