Truly Authentic Leadership
If ever there was a time when America needs leaders, it's now. The litany of problems is all too familiarIraq, healthcare, schools, energy, the seemingly endless series of corporate scandals. What's nowhere to be found, howeveror almost nowhereis the leadership needed to fix things. The problem isn't the lack of potential leaders, however, but a wrongheaded notion of what exactly a leader is. This misguided notion of leadership often results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles. Search committees and voters alike fall into the trap of choosing leaders for their style rather than their substance, for their image instead of their integrity. Given this way of doing business, why should we be surprised when our leaders come up short?
The only valid test of a leader is his or her ability to bring people together to achieve sustainable results over time. There's no such thing as the "One-Minute Leader" because real leadership requires years of development and hard work.
The good news is that there is no shortage of people with the capacity to lead. There are leaders throughout organizations just waiting for the opportunity. In too many organizations, however, people don't feel empowered to take charge, nor are they rewarded for doing so. Young & Rubicam Brand's CEO, Ann Fudge, says, "All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a nonprofit volunteer. The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others."
Greater purpose. The time is ripe to redefine leadership for the 21st century. The military-manufacturing model of leadership that worked so well 50 years ago doesn't get the best out of people today. People are too well informed to adhere to a set of rules or to simply follow a leader over a distant hill. They want to be inspired by a greater purpose. As Fudge concludes, "We're here for something. Life is about giving and living fully."
What, then, is the 21st-century leader all about? It is being authentic, uniquely yourself, the genuine article. Authentic leaders know who they are. They are "good in their skin," so good they don't feel a need to impress or please others. They not only inspire those around them, they bring people together around a shared purpose and a common set of values and motivate them to create value for everyone involved.
"America's Best Leaders" are the best of the new breed of authentic leaders. Reading about them, you will discern a dramatic shift in caliber and character. These men and women have stepped boldly into the nation's leadership vacuum, with a passion to unite others in addressing the toughest problems we face. From Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's thoughtful guidance of the Supreme Court to Eric Lander's towering leadership in the scientific community to Don Berwick's practical approaches to improving healthcare, these leaders have defied convention to lead in their authentic way. In so doing, they have set a new standard for the rest of us.