Becoming an Authentic Leader

Authentic Leader
Marc Beckmann/Ostkreuz

Talita Ferreira left the corporate sector after more than 20 years to promote what she believes is missing in leadership today: authenticity. In this article, she explains how it can unleash the potential of leaders and what role the Sustainable Development Goals can play in business.

We need a world where companies are a place for individuals to grow and develop. Where profits are the outcome of passionate people pursuing purpose and amazing partnerships to ensure we are all working for the common greater good, sustaining our planet for the generations to come. 

But how do we achieve this in a world that is over-commercialized, over-commoditized and where financial analysts and shareholders drive companies to pursue ROI (Return on Investment) and EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) without thinking about the significant long-term impacts on society, the environment, and the world at large?

Hopefully, we can start to lead the way. Firstly, through pursuing real authenticity everywhere and with everyone. Secondly, through consumers becoming responsible leaders in every aspect of their lives. Finally, by starting to measure business by its contribution to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and not merely by the profit imperative.

Real authenticity: After spending two decades in corporate life and observing thousands of leaders, I have concluded that real authenticity can only emerge through equal amounts of emotional and social intelligence, being conscious and connected in equal measure.

Consciousness is a deep understanding and awareness of ourselves, what drives us and what motivates us. This aspect includes our behaviors, our set of core values, our passions, and, at the heart of everything, our own individual purpose in this world. Without this deeper understanding of ourselves, it is not possible to connect to other people in a more meaningful way. Connectedness is what leads us to a higher level of purpose-driven collaboration and true partnership, which elevates us above the ego and fear-based, competitive, control-related behaviors that have become so familiar to us in everyday life.

"Connectedness is what leads us to a higher level of purpose-driven collaboration and true partnership."

For deeper, meaningful relationships to occur, several crucial ingredients need to be in place, including:

  • trust fostered through an unconditional respect for difference;
  • not being afraid to show your vulnerability and realizing that it is rather a strength;
  • learning to suspend judgment of other people; and
  • being brave enough to face your deeper fears.
BaltimoreUrban

Responsible Leaders Forum North America

Talita Ferreira participated in the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Forum in Baltimore, USA. The forum injected new ideas into the public debate about elites, solidarity, and social inclusion. It focused specifically on Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities. Since the Forum, Talita has been a member of the global BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.

For too long, we have brought a different version of ourselves to our work than the one living at home with our loved ones. In the current business paradigm, we want to move away from the silo orientation and the command and control hierarchies holding us back from true partnership and from creating something truly greater than ourselves. When we resonate more deeply with ourselves, other people, and our passions, we start to understand the interconnectedness of all things far better; we want to do more for our planet and further our purpose within the world. This connectedness and integration in all aspects of our lives should be fostered within organizations to reduce the impact of stress and increase well-being.

"For too long, we have brought a different version of ourselves to our work than the one living at home with our loved ones."

Responsible leaders are passionate and pursue their own and a greater purpose every day. They relish connecting to other people without ego and judgment, with a desire for true inclusion and a greater awareness of the planet. This type of inclusive leader steps back and allows other people to grow into this space. This leader is not afraid to follow and co-create.

As responsible leaders, we become more globally aware of the call to action. We focus on the simple and tiny things we can do to create positive change every day. For example, choosing to buy food or consumables based on their packaging, or choosing to buy products based on the social impact a brand is making, or buying a refillable glass water bottle and carrying it absolutely everywhere to reduce our plastic footprint. Responsible leaders set aside individual glory and think about the greater good: to drive social change; to eliminate inequalities; and to create partnerships unheard of before. They focus on creating the best possible outcomes together. Living as a truly responsible leader in all aspects of our lives might mean that we need to give up some aspects of life as we know it, like privilege and status.

"The Sustainable Development Goals should form the new DNA of an organization, encapsulated in every product detail and measured throughout every process."

Measuring business: Business doing good is not simply supporting social activities or sustainability in the narrow sense. It should include employees working in organizations in the best way suited to them as individuals, to ensure that they excel, grow, and develop, with a high level of motivation. Businesses should be a place for individuals to meet and pursue their individual authenticity (as defined above) and their individual and collective purposes.

As consumers and investors, we should move to measuring companies by their profits and the current sustainability indexes to the extent of an 80% measurement. The other 20% should measure how well they are performing against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and which partnerships they are forming to pursue these goals. They should form the new DNA of an organization, encapsulated in every product detail and measured throughout every process. Companies that do this will be seen more positively by customers who are striving to be responsible leaders. Wouldn’t it be great if the most successful companies in an industry truly partnered and combined forces to pursue the 17 goals and take action on climate issues or inequality together?

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals should bring together governments, leaders, and business to stand together and work together for our future in a uniquely authentic way. It is time we extended the triple bottom line paradigm of profit, people, and planet to include passion, purpose, and partnership. My hope is that a higher connection to true authenticity and purpose brings us closer to our connection with the planet. We are here for a greater good, to sustain the planet, fulfill our own purpose, and to give back. And we can only achieve this by living in true connectedness and partnership with other responsible and authentic leaders.

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