By Jorge E. Ponce, NewsTaco
We are all familiar with the differences between management and leadership. While both serve an organization well, the leader brings about change more rapidly. This is because managers get their authority by being selected for their positions, while leaders gather followers through their own choice. Managers rule by policies, rules, and regulations, whereas leaders rely on their own intuition. Thus, managers approach problem solving from a perspective that relies on the way things have been done in the past, while leaders think outside the box.
With companies competing in a global economy, it is essential that they have a cadre of employees who expand their business practices away from just the American way of doing of business. Even the Federal Government must embrace new ways of doing business with an increasingly diverse U.S. population, as the 2010 Census has shown. Leaders are best suited for these roles.
However, in order for leaders to succeed, they have to be viewed by their followers as authentic. Some people think that this is something that one is born with, when, in reality, it is something that is given to the leader by his or her followers. Authenticity deals with what others see in you. Authentic leaders are closely grounded to their origins and core values. They know where they come from, what they stand for, and where they are going. They are proud of their countries of origin or geographic regions, while embracing the societal and business norms where they operate.
Naturally, a true leader has to be careful not to lose his/her authenticity when presenting different faces to different people. Not an easy task, but one that is mandatory. Thus, if a leader is reared in a Christian household, he/she must be careful when addressing audiences from non-Christian backgrounds. This does not require the leader to be fraudulent; it means that the leader must be adept at showing different facets of his/her personality to different interest groups. To do otherwise would result in the leader being able to recruit followers only with whom he/she shares some common attributes.
To show different aspects of a leader’s personality is achievable because authenticity reflects the leader’s inner self, not his/her talent for playacting – as practiced by most politicians. Authenticity also requires leaders to have the courage to fight the conformity expected from monocultured organizations. Therefore, followers must be reassured constantly that the leader is not going to sell them to the highest bidder. They must know that the leader will be passionate about doing what is right, not what is popular or politically expedient.
All this talk about authenticity reminds me of a traumatic experience that I encountered when I left Cuba in 1966. Upon my arrival to Washington, DC, I was concerned about my poor English-speaking skills, as they could adversely impact my ability to succeed in the American culture. Thus, I was thrilled when I met other Cubans who had come to the DC area five years earlier. While I was expecting acceptance by the Cubans, I generally encountered rejection. Most of these Cubans laughed at my thick Cuban accent, at the way I was dressed, even at my hairstyle. They did not want to mingle with other Cubans because they viewed success as complete assimilation to the American model – not realizing that you could succeed by embracing both cultures.
I ran into some of these Cubans twenty years later and was shocked by their demeanor. Now, they wanted to be more Cuban than the Cuban founding fathers. Their obsession with everything Cuban was indicative that they wanted to make up for lost time. In a very short time, the ideal prototype changed from being the American model to the Cuban model.
Like all converts, these Cubans came across as lacking authenticity. Sadly, they did not get many people or employees to follow them. Others viewed their disregard for their roots as an inability to respect and value other diverse cultures – a serious liability in today’s heterogeneous marketplace and work environment.
And, finally, many of us saw House Speaker John Boehner tell ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer on November 8, 2012, that he would not make it his mission to repeal the Affordable Care Act after President Obama was re-elected to a second term. Speaker Boehner stated that “it’s pretty clear … that Obamacare is the law of the land.” Yet, Speaker Boehner succumbed to the whims of some House Republicans on September 30, 2013, to force a government shutdown if the Affordable Care Act were not defunded. So, he allowed the first government shutdown in seventeen years, furloughed 800,000 civil servants, exposed the Nation to a potential terrorist attack because some House Republicans wanted to ignore what was, by Boehner’s own admission, the law of the land. Such reckless behavior illustrates that these elected politicians lack authenticity and are opportunists. Authentic leaders keep their promises – especially those made on national television just eleven months ago.
Jorge E. Ponce is a Civil Rights Champion who has worked for the Federal Government for over 30 years.