Leadership: Authenticity, values and culture

I was recently asked to facilitate a partner strategy session where the focus was on authenticity, values and culture. It was a highly interactive session with participants considering their personal values in a structured way before discussing them in peer groups. It was a softer parallel process alongside a more analytical strategy development process. 


Authentic means representing one’s true nature or beliefs and being true to oneself. Humanistic psychologists say that authentic people possess a number of common characteristics that show they are psychologically mature and fully functioning as human beings.

Authentic people:

  • Have realistic perceptions of reality
  • Are accepting of themselves and of other people
  • Are thoughtful
  • Have a non-hostile sense of humour
  • Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly
  • Are open to learning from their mistakes
  • Understand their motivations

They think inward and look outward, treat people with kindness and respect, live in the moment, are great listeners and are open-minded and fair to opportunities and people. Being authentic helps with the development of trust http://kimtasso.com/trust-better-business-relationships/

When we consider what differentiates a manager from a leader there are four areas that relate directly to authenticity – leaders are original, they inspire trust, they ask why and they are their own person.

Authenticity is one of the 10 attributes of a trusted adviser too.


In a partnership, it is often the values that glue the partnership together – sometimes more so than the business aims and strategy which can be unclear or disparate.

Campbell MacPherson, in his excellent book “The Change Catalyst” http://kimtasso.com/book-review-the-change-catalyst-secrets-to-successful-and-sustainable-business-change-by-campbell-macpherson-change-management/ argued that the ingredients for building extraordinary leadership teams are:

  • Clarity
  • Alignment
  • Engagement
  • Clearly defined rules of engagement
  • Shared objectives
  • Respect

Personal values need to be aligned to the business purpose – answering the “Why are we in business?” that Simon Sinek refers to in his golden circle.

Clients too are interested in values. David Maister in his classic book “Managing the professional services firm” argues that clients qualify firms on technical criteria and then select on emotional criteria such as “Do I like you?” and “Do I want to work with you?” and, most importantly, “Do you have similar values to me?”.

Maister also said that a firm must have a sense of a mission beyond the 3Ss of (client) service, (financial) success and (professional) satisfaction. Common values may overcome differences in personal ethics where the drive towards achievement or altruism may differ.

The values based matrix maps an individual’s mind (rational), heart (emotional) and spiritual values against the mission (why), vision (what) and values (how) of a business.

Corporate culture

There are various definitions of corporate culture:

  • “Behaviours that new employees are encouraged to follow” (Kotter and Heskett)
  • “Norms for acceptable behaviour” (Hai)
  • “Reinforces ideas and feelings that are consistent with the corporation’s beliefs” (Hampden-Turner)
  • “Influences the external relations of the corporation, as well as the internal relations of the employees” (Hai)

Organizational culture means the vision, tone and mentality of a business and its employees as a whole.

Metaphors are a useful way to describe culture. In professional service firms you may have hawks and doves, lone wolves and worker bees and hunters and gatherers. Morgan offered metaphors such as machine (change planned and rolled out from the top), organism (data presented to individuals who decide collaboratively) and political (a powerful group in leadership). There are many models which look at differences in, for example, sociability and solidarity (Goffee and Jones) and internal integration and stability (Cameron and Quinn).

John Coleman, writing in Harvard Business Review, identified six components of a good corporate culture:

  1. Vision – the purpose of the organisation
  2. Values
  3. Practices
  4. People
  5. Narrative – the history of the organisation as a story
  6. Place – workplace design

As well as being important for recruitment, retention and productivity, corporate culture is also important for innovation. The University of Southern California and the University of Minnesota say: ”Corporate culture is, above all else, the most important factor in driving innovation.”