‘Feel the Fear’ – Authentic Leadership in Times of Change

Authentic_leadershipThe UK election highlighted that being seen as an effective leader is a key factor for success. The search is now on for opposition parties to elect new leaders to change their parties’ fortunes.

Over the past three years, there has been a decline in people’s view of leaders. In 2014, just 22% of respondents in Ketchum’s Leadership Communication Monitor said leaders are demonstrating effective leadership, down from 25% in 2013.

Amplifying this issue, a recent Harvard Business Review study ranks strong executive leadership as one of the top three factors for business success.

So what makes for an effective leader in times of change?

Research by the Institute of Employment Studies shows authentic leadership as the most effective route to inspire followership and action.

Authentic leaders always portray a version of their ‘real self’. In doing so, they inspire loyalty amongst their staff who want a leader who is genuine, transparent and trustworthy.

This isn’t easy. As humans, we possess many beliefs about the world and ourselves; and when we face major decisions these beliefs can clash. This results in a psychological state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. The experience of dissonance is unpleasant, because we feel conflicted and torn between the choices we face. The natural reaction is to attempt to reduce or eliminate this conflict, and achieve consonance (i.e. self-agreement and conviction).

Leaders are no exception. When a leader adapts his or her attitude or behaviour to reduce cognitive dissonance, employees can interpret this as inauthenticity which can damage trust.

In effect, great leaders accept cognitive dissonance and ‘feel the fear’.

So how can we learn to ‘feel the fear’? Ketchum Change works with leaders to unpick uncomfortable truths allowing them to:

  • Understand that they can choose to act differently, and this new behaviour can in turn modify their attitude
  • Recognise the moments or events that trigger them where dissonance is at play and break to cycle

By proactively managing their attitude and ability to lead change authentically, leaders are able to bring others through change successfully.

The new opposition party leaders will face many challenges ahead. If they can learn to ‘feel the fear’ and be authentic in their actions, they are more likely to succeed in gaining both their colleagues’ and the public’s followership and trust.

Paul is Partner and EMEA Regional Director for Ketchum Change, the firm’s change management, employee engagement and workforce communications consultancy. He is an occupational psychologist and has been engaged in business consultancy roles since 1997, leading business transformation, HR and people change programmes.

Paul’s experience covers a variety of industry sectors including central and local government, retailing, manufacturing, telecoms, regulation and financial services.