How To Quit Hoping You’re An Authentic Leader, and Actually Become One

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This article is part of my Global Leadership series; Insights from more than a decade of leadership training around the world…

What does it mean to be an authentic servant leader? It means putting the needs of everyone else ahead of your own interests. And while such selflessness can be easy to say, it can be difficult to do. 

I faced a test of this principle while visiting a country which was suffering under a harsh, authoritarian government. In the weeks leading up to this visit, my colleague who lived in a neighboring country was stepping me through the exhausting process of getting my entry documents in order.

I was so nervous about making a mistake in this paperwork, and of being possibly detained upon entry into the country, that I bombarded my colleague with questions almost daily. “Is this form correct? Have I filled out this document properly?” Each time, my colleague assured me that my paperwork was in order.

Finally, the day of our flight into this high-risk country arrived. My heart was beating through my chest as we made our way in the dead of night into the prison-like security office at the airport. My colleague continued to assure me that my paperwork was fine.

And indeed, moments after I approached the security desk, my paperwork and passport were stamped, and I was waved through.

But then, I heard a great commotion behind me, with shrill yells and angry accusations flying around. My colleague was being detained. Questions had been raised about his paperwork.

After he had been interviewed for an hour or so, he was released and we were on our way. But part of my reflection on the ordeal was the embarrassing recognition that, in all of our preparation, I had never once inquired about his security to enter this country. I had been so all-consumed about my own well-being, that I had never paused to consider whether all would be well with my colleague.

As I have reflected on this incident, here are 3 questions that have served to guide my own journey towards authentic leadership. If you desire to truly become such a leader, these questions can be your first step.

  1. In my zeal to achieve the goal, have I ensured that everyone on the team is okay?
  2. Have I demonstrated that my concern for the team’s welfare is my highest priority?
  3. Would people describe my actions as an example of true servant leadership?

If you’re committed to developing as a servant leader, just know that it will take courage, humility, and compassion. It’s not always easy.

But the results will always be worth it.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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