What makes a truly authentic leader?

It’s a question that’s perplexed great leaders since the age of Achilles; what defines a leader? Compassion? Empathy? Or hard-hitting sales techniques

What makes a truly authentic leader?

We caught up with Dan Pontefract, best-selling author and closing keynote speaker at our upcoming HR Leaders Summit in Toronto. Here, I picked his brains over what he believes a truly authentic leaders looks like, whilst he gave me a crash course in Reaganomics.

“I argue there are three legs to the stool of an authentic leader,” he prefaced.  “The first, is one who believes in a collaborative culture. By that I mean someone who’s proactive, empathetic, involving and understanding. The second is purpose driven. A purpose driven leader is one who recognizes that in order to be effective they really need to have purpose of self; they know there’s more to an organization than power, money and revenue. Community, planet, and people are key stakeholders not to be forgotten. Finally, comes the open thinker. This is an individual who, at the end of the day, isn’t addicted to action or busyness. But rather they balance the need to reflect and to push forward.

“In balancing these two states, your people will mimic the authentic leader – essentially, they’ll balance the creative, the critical and the applied thinking. When you put it all together you have a wholly authentic executive. One who is adept at managing all facets of the organization.”

And Dan is no stranger to this deconstruction of the ideal leader. His third book, OPEN to THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, deals with societies collapse of “open thinking”. In it, he suggests that in order to mitigate calamities such as a relentless pursuit of action mixed with the pressure to “do more with less” individuals and teams must combine creative, critical, and applied thinking.

The model of what a leader should be has shifted in the past 30 years. Dan explained that between 1946-1980, leaders had a wildly different DNA.

“Looking at it from a pay perspective, the average salary of a CEO to the mid-level employee was 20x. Sadly, shareholder primacy became the purpose of business – aided by the influence of Ronald Reagan.”

Dan cited Milton Freidman’s definition of Reaganomics; "lower marginal tax rates, less regulation, restrained government spending, noninflationary monetary policy.” But increasing shareholder return is the real enemy of Friedman’s thinking.

“Between WW2 and 1980, leaders weren’t just on phenomenal salaries, they weren’t solely fixated on profit,” he added. “Profit was a result of being a great leader, fostering a good team and encouraging a healthy culture. They thought for the long-term and operated with a purpose driven mindset, for more than just power and money. I believe the model has changed since then, thanks to Friedman and Reaganomics.

“The crash in 2008 shows how wickedly indifferent leaders have become.”

Dan will be speaking at our upcoming HR Leaders Summit in Toronto, on November 13th and 14th. Take a look at our exciting line-up, and buy your ticket, here.



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