How to be a more 'authentic' IT leader

In today's digital workforce, it's not enough simply to manage. Workers are looking for authentic leadership.

By Sharon Florentine
Oct. 6, 2016

A funeral seems like the last place to find professional leadership lessons, but at the service celebrating her mother's life, LaVerne Council found inspiration she brings every day in her role as assistant secretary for Information and Technology and CIO, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"My mother wasn't a CEO. She wasn't on the cover of a magazine. But the church was packed. I remember the minister saying, 'Millie was one of those people who always had your back. And she was no phony,' and that was all he needed to say. That was everything; I try every day to live up to that in my life and in my work," Council says.

Today's IT organizations need authentic and bold leadership to guide their digital transformation and drive innovation and growth. But it's also key to solving another corporate puzzle: how to attract, hire and retain talent.

Inspiring loyalty

In today's job market, companies can't promise lifelong job security, and employees don't expect it. But what organizations can offer, and what more and more workers are looking for, is purpose, mission and shared values. That starts with authentic leadership, says Bruce Tulgan, founder and chairman at generational research and management training and consultancy RainmakerThinking, and author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, The 27 Challenges Managers Face and Bridging the Soft Skills Gap.

"We live in a post-job-security era; company loyalty is dead. Businesses have to be lean and nimble, and they can't promise lifelong career security the way they once did. So, loyalty has become more short-term and transactional, and where they're felt most deeply is between and among human beings where there's trust and confidence, and where workers feel they're contributing to a shared mission," says Tulgan.

In other words, because there's no longer a long-term value proposition involved for employees -- pay your dues and work hard and the company will take care of you until your retirement -- much more emphasis is placed on the short-term value proposition, which is more about short-term growth, honesty, transparency and authenticity, Tulgan says.

The look of authenticity

Leadership in this new workplace landscape looks much different than the old command-and-control, hierarchical systems, and requires a different skill set than in generations past. Authentic leadership necessarily looks different for every leader, too, since it requires an emphasis on an individual's unique strengths and talents as well as an understanding and acceptance of areas for improvement. There's no "one-size-fits-all" definition of an authentic leader, says Council. It's about bringing your own personal values and beliefs to any and every situation and standing firmly behind them.

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