IE and Authentic Leadership

Here at IE, we are often asked where we stand on the debate between charter and district schools (and, occasionally on ‘new models’ of schools, private and parochial schools, as well). While we enjoy working with a range of schools (and organizations that support them) our answer to the question is pretty consistent – we are agnostic on the debate itself, but hold firm to a simple maxim; that great schools – regardless of their formal affiliation – require great leaders, and that great leadership can be developed.

Our approach to how to grow leadership has a number of research-based pillars, and I wanted to explore one of them here – authenticity .

In a July, 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, The Truth About Authentic Leaders, HBS faculty member William George asserts that contemporary organizations require “a new kind of leader, whose character is the ingredient that matters most—more than characteristics or style.” George challenges older models of leadership, including the “great man theory” and competency-based leadership models. “Previous generations of (leaders) spent more time trying to “market” themselves as leaders, rather than undertaking the transformative work that leadership development requires.”

“Rather than trying to redefine what it means to be authentic, research and leadership development programs should focus on how leaders develop their authenticity.” In response to the question of the ‘how’ and what this sort of ‘transformative work that develops authenticity in leaders’ looks like, George (after conducting in-depth interviews with 172 authentic leaders) elaborates on a few points:

Explore their life stories and their crucibles in order to understand who they are.

  • Engage in reflection and introspective practices by … step(ping) back from the 24/7 world, turn off all electronics, and reflect on what is most important to them.
  • Seeking honest feedback from colleagues, friends, and subordinates about themselves and their leadership.
  • Understand their leadership purpose so they can align people around a common purpose.
  • Become skilled at tailoring their style to their audiences, imperatives of the situation, and readiness of their teammates to accept different approaches.

We love Professor George and his ideas – mostly because they are sound and well constructed (as found in his books like Discover Your True North and Authentic Leadership). We also love Professor George because his list of ‘’recommended steps people undertake to develop a deeper understanding of themselves in order to become authentic leaders’ reads like the Inspiring Educators’ catalog of program offerings – Telling Your Story in Leadership, Presence of a School Leader- Relationship Building, (the having) of Challenging Conversations, Finding Your Passionate Purpose, Roles of a School Leader, and more.

At I.E., we take the core of Professor George’s idea, “The essence of authentic leadership is emotional intelligence, or EQ, as articulated by Daniel Goleman.”, and help school leaders with what we call ‘E.Q. in action’, accelerating the process of their growth as a complement to the technical and managerial elements of their professional development they have received / are receiving.

We are thrilled with the response we have been receiving – especially form those relatively early in their ‘career arc’ – it reinforces the belief we subscribe to that the way to help schools change for the better is to try a different approach to growing school leaders.

Another HBS faculty member Lakshmi Ramarajan notes, the process of learning, growing, and developing an integrated self is a process of construction and meaning–making. As leaders explore their life stories and crucibles, and process their experiences, they develop deeper understanding of themselves and feel increasingly comfortable being authentic. IE’s vision is a world in which horizons for every child – regardless of their zip code – are limitless, and we believe that schools (whatever their formal structure) can further us in that vision. A key ingredient is inspired leadership, the kind that authentic leaders can provide.

We provide those leaders with the tools to transform their schools as they, the leaders themselves, are transformed.

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