Nico Esterhuizen explains what it takes to be an authentic leader


An authentic leader is trustworthy, understanding and inclusive, says JAM International CFO Nico Esterhuizen.

Historically leadership theory focuses largely on the characteristics of the individual to understand the foundations for successful leadership. This includes understanding leadership from the perspective of traits and skills, such as persistence, drive, intelligence, dominance, extroversion, and so on.

However, a mere list of traits is insufficient because it does not address the fact that leaders are not the same. It also does not consider broader aspects such as culture, business environment and external influences.

We need “new” traits to complement our current list of traits in order to be the most authentic leaders we can be. These include courage, boldness, honesty, trustworthiness, humility, sincerity, awareness, connectedness, compassion and consistency.

Being trustworthy
Many people feel unappreciated and used through the adverse events South Africa has recently faced, such as corporate failures, where the leaders of organisations misled them. Now, people are seeking leaders they can trust and believe in.

Being understanding
Authentic leadership is often based on the unique life events that people experience. These life events provide leaders with the insight to understand the needs of people, to relate to people, to have perspective, and to formulate authentic responses and answers for the future.

This is especially critical during times of uncertainty and crisis, when leaders have to understand the specific needs of their people and show compassion for their situations.

Encouraging diversity
Over the last few years, and especially in 2020, organisations have had to reconsider their “tables” and who they bring to it. The times have called for more inclusion in the workplace.

It’s now more important than ever before for leaders to encourage different views and collaboration. Authentic leaders will include the views of their followers in decision-making and they are concerned about the development of their people.

Finding your true north
In order to attain authentic purpose as a leader, you need to identify your “true north”. This represents who we are as a human being, at our deepest level. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your true north is based on your most cherished values, your passions, and motivations, and the sources of satisfaction in your life.

In order to find your true north, you need to turn inwards and identify the values you have as a person, then bring those with you on your leadership journey.

Only when you are able to lead truthfully, understandingly and inclusively, will you be able to successfully lead your organisation into the future.

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