Authenticity in Leadership

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Norman Schwarzkopf

Last night I found myself in front of the TV watching NFL football games I cared nothing about, when one of my friends sent me a text and suggested I watch the movie “We Were Soldiers” (it was airing on TNT).  I’d seen the movie before, but since my Texans had already lost their game and my Saints had pulled out a win in theirs, I figured it was worth watching again.  I’m glad I did.

“We Were Soldiers” is a 2002 film that dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965 (during the Vietnam War).  In this battle, 400 American soldiers were dropped in to a battlefield to secure a position, only to find out the location was the base camp for a veteran North Vietnamese Army division of more than 4,000 men.  After several days of fierce battle, the US soldiers had defeated an enemy ten times their size – but at a significant loss.  A hollow victory for sure, but one which reflects the nature of that horrible conflict.

My message is certainly not of war or the victories and tragedies that often accompany it.  Instead, my message is about the importance of authenticity in leadership, and how powerful that can be even in the most difficult of times.  And it was one of the quotes in this movie that struck me as a prime example of such authenticity – the leadership Lt. Col. Hal Moore showed in commanding his troops during this difficult battle.

“We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.”

[Lt. Col. Hal Moore, as depicted by Mel Gibson in the movie “We Were Soldiers”]

True to his word, Lt. Col. Hal Moore was the first soldier to step foot on to that valley floor, and was the last to leave after the battle had completed (including those who had fallen).  No doubt his leadership style had earned him the respect and admiration of his soldiers long before this battle, but his words and actions fully reconcile to illustrate where authenticity and leadership should meet.

By comparison we will never face a situation like what Lt. Col. Hal Moore and his men did (at least I certainly hope not).  But the lessons learned from his words and his actions are no less important in our own daily challenges.  Imagine how much more powerful you would be as a leader whose authenticity is well known?  You see, people don’t just respond to authenticity – they crave it.  And most people will follow a leader who is authentic and whose interests are for the good of the team, not just the individual.

Consider Norman Schwarzkopf’s quote above – “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy”.  Character (which goes side by side with authenticity) is more important than strategy?  Yes!  And I couldn’t agree more.

In researching for this week’s message, I came across a similar article about the importance of authenticity.  It’s from Michael Hyatt, and his article references “5 Marks of Authentic Leadership” (http://michaelhyatt.com/the-five-marks-of-authentic-leadership.html – © 2013, Michael S. Hyatt. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.michaelhyatt.com.).  I loved them so much I thought it worth sharing with you.  I’ve added my observations to each of his 5 marks for emphasis.

  1. Authentic leaders have insight – I think this not only applies to their vision for success, but also to having the insight in to what’s most important for those team members serving towards that same vision.
  2. Authentic leaders demonstrate initiative – Similar to my first leadership principle (“Lead by example”) they are willing to do exactly what they ask of their team.  In the case of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, he was the first on the battlefield and the last to leave.
  3. Authentic leaders exert influence – Sounds a lot like another one of my leadership principles“Influential Authority”.  That is, influence is far more powerful than directive. 
  4. Authentic leaders have impact – Pure and simple, they make a difference.
  5. Authentic leaders exercise integrity – Character; integrity; values; and a moral compass that is unwavering.

Now that’s something you can’t fake!

-Kip

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