By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have been discouraged from trying to imitate others. While it’s true that we are all influenced by the behavior of other people – it’s impossible to be successful while trying to be a carbon copy of another person. Worse yet, behaving in an inauthentic way can make others see you as insincere and erode trust. The idea of authenticity is perhaps most important for those in leadership roles.

An often-cited 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review details research conducted on a group of 125 leaders ranging in ages 23-93 from a diverse array of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Each person was interviewed about his or her experiences as a leader and candidly shared their life stories and career struggles with the interviewer.

This was the largest study on leadership conducted to-date and the conclusion was astounding: even after over 1,000 studies conducted on leadership, none have been able to ascertain what particular personality trait or traits makes for the “ideal” leader. Rather, it seems, that a leader’s acumen arises from being their authentic selves.

Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see you do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader. Leadership emerges from your life story.

Obviously, this is encouraging news – particularly to those who may be unsure of their own “inborn” ability to lead effectively. But how can we apply authenticity to leadership, especially when leading across cultures? Despite what many may believe, it is possible to remain true to one’s own beliefs even while being immersed in a different culture.

The ability to have genuine interactions and working relationships with people from different cultures is not in conflict with being your “true self”, but is really just a matter of being self-aware enough to know who you are, and to recognize and anticipate potential cultural differences that may bring unpleasant surprises in the future. By coupling your cultural intelligence with authenticity, you too can become a more effective leader while remaining true to yourself.
Are you a CultureWizard user? Use the Culture Calculator to create your own personalized cultural profile and identify potential cultural gaps between yourself and your global colleagues. For more information about CultureWizard learning resources, you can contact Rw3 via their Technical Partner Page on the RES Forum website

Post by Paul Bailey - General Manager Europe, at Rw3 CultureWizard