Blog Post

Is It Time to Expand the Paradigm for Authentic Leadership?

By Vanessa J. Weaver Ph.D.
July 17, 2018

Insights from 2018’s 16th Annual Multicultural Women’s National Conference (MCW-NC) indicate the time is right for shifting the leadership paradigm to one where authenticity is embraced and encouraged. Companies must evolve from outdated leadership models to one where the Cultural DNA of highly talented diverse women is supported. The shift in the leadership paradigm assumes that the organization’s ability to identify and leverage the authentic leadership strengths that Multicultural women (MCW) bring, will result in more rapid advancement and increased representation of MCW in senior leader roles. Another critical benefit of this paradigm shift is that authentic leadership supports increased employee engagement and inclusive cultures, which ultimately translates into enhanced business performance.

A key segment of the MCW-NC focused on authentic leadership. We define authentic leadership as “leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values.”1 MCW-NC expanded on this definition by adding, “Authentic leadership is a model of leadership reflecting someone with integrity and strong values, whose actions and behavior consistently represent those values. This consistency between “walk and talk” results in a leader who is considered to be “real”. Ultimately, authentic leadership impacts the employee experience in the following areas:

  • Workplace relationships
  • Performance
  • Career advancement opportunities

A unique and branded component of the MCW-NC, is its Same Race conversations. The goal of these conversations is to discuss the experience of a particular phenom by women in the same group and then compare the insights gathered and experiences shared, to the insights and experiences in the other groups. For this MCW-NC, thought-leaders Dr. Vanessa Weaver, from Alignment Strategies and Janet Wigfield, VP of Multicultural Conference Team, designed this Same Race Session to contextualize how Cultural DNA is processed and demonstrated as attributes of authentic leadership. Over 400 MCW-NC participants were invited to take Peter Northouse’s self-scoring “Authentic Leadership Assessment”2. Northouse’s Authentic Leadership model was selected because its attributes could easily reflect nuances of a MCW’s Cultural DNA. The Authentic Leadership Model consisted of 4 attributes:

  1. Self-awareness – “Know thyself”
  2. Relational Transparency – “Be genuine”
  3. Internalized moral perspective – “Do the right thing”
  4. Balanced Processing – “Be fair minded”

The participants were divided into eight (8) Same Race/Shared Affinity groups [African-American/Blacks, Asian, Latina, White, Native American, Multiracial, Men and LGBTQ-Plus]. Each Same Race/Affinity group captured the frequency of their category responses, shared their scoring for each category and captured insights from their shared conversations for each Authentic Leadership attribute. This exercise provided some interesting insights:

  1. Do the right thing was the highest rated trait across five of the eight groups.

This Indicates that decisions are driven by a strong ethical core and values. “I trust myself to make the right decision.”

  1. Fair Mindedness was the lowest rated trait for seven out of eight groups

Value other’s perspectives, but decisions aren’t driven by those perspectives. “I do not have the luxury of taking a recommendation or advice. At the end of the day, I need to trust my gut and experience.”

  1. Genuine showed up only as the only #1 trait for one group.

Suggesting that authenticity continues to be a challenge. “How much of who I am at home, the inputs to my experience, my background, my heritage, can I bring to work?”

Two dimensions, Self-Awareness –“Know thyself” and Relational Transparency – “Be Genuine” are more introspective, while “Do the Right Thing” and “Be Fair Minded” are action focused. Thus, it would be plausible to expect that Know Thyself and Being Genuine are two close attributes. Yet, “Know Thyself” and “Do the Right Thing” were either 1st or 2nd positions for almost 90% of the Same Race/Same Affinity groups
[see Exhibit 1].

Being Genuine, which is fundamental to Authenticity, placed 1st with only one group, and then was between 3rd & 4th for 50% of the Same Race/Affinity groups. This suggest that Same Race Groups are still weighing if and how to show up as Genuine leaders. This supports Deloitte’s Covering research, indicating that the majority of people feel they need to Cover their Authentic selves to be accepted in

Exhibit 1: Authentic Leadership Attributes by Same Race Group

Know ThyselfBe GenuineBe Fair-MindedDo the Right Thing
African American1st3rd4th2nd
Native American1st2nd3rd1st
LGBTQ Plus2nd3rd4th1st

If companies would proactively translate the Cultural DNA of MCW’s authentic leadership into behaviors, they could expand the lens in which they evaluate the strengths and contributions of MCW, while identifying Talent for senior leaders and C-Suite roles. This could reverse the current benchmark data that indicates that MCW are under-represented in the senior/executive leader pipeline.

It appears that the measuring stick for who is determined a viable candidate for senior manager levels and crucial assignments leading to C-suite opportunities, does not fully comprehend or factor how the Cultural DNA of MCW make them competitive leaders.

For example, the representation of MCW in the 2018 Best Companies for Multicultural women, exceeded the national average, 23% vs. 19%. Also, MCW at junior levels in the 2018 Best Companies (14%) exceeded the national average (11%). Yet, representation at senior levels fell off in the 2018 Best companies (9%) and nationally (5%). For the last two years, representation of MCW [18%) in the Top 20% earners is markedly below White women (30.5%). MCW (4%) aren’t receiving the same level of credible jobs that lead to C-Suite roles as White women (20%). As a consequence, White women (24%) are making more progress, than MCW reaching the CEO level (6.4%).

During the Cross-Race Session, small mixed groups of MCW and others, explored the impact of Authentic Leadership in eight different breakout sessions. During the “Men Engaging Women As Leaders” session, several Millennial women raised the question, when will our authentic behaviors actually be incorporated into leadership models and selection criteria for senior leaders. For example, one participant raised, “why can’t crying being included as an example of being able to emote openly with a colleague, or classified as an example of Relational Transparency/Being Genuine?.” Another asked, “why isn’t willingness to “speak truth to powerful people” not valued as a behavior for Being Fair-Minded vs. politically correct?” Another asked, why aren’t leaders being held accountable for cultural fluency and investing the time to Know Thyself and Know Others?

The point of the Millennial inquiry and push back was, if companies are seriously invested in Inclusion, development and advancement of MCW as a strategy for increased employee engagement and business success, they need to accelerate creating or expanding leadership models to reflect their culturally authentic leadership attributes, thus supporting cultures where people don’t have to wonder if being “genuine” can can cause your success to be derailed.

I said to myself and them, “Excellent Point!” I then reflected, what’s my personal action step, since all change starts with one person. I decided to use my voice in this article and posit the question, “Isn’t it time to expand the leadership paradigms?”

1 Leadership Theory and Practice. Peter Guy Northouse.

2 Leadership Theory and Practice. Peter Guy Northouse.

3 Deloitte reference Yoshino, K., Smith, C. (2015) “Rediscovering Inclusion” Deloitte

Dr. Vanessa J. Weaver, a Clinical Psychologist, is CEO of Alignment Strategies, a 28+ year firm focused on driving business results thru increased inclusion, diversity and engagement. Dr. Weaver is currently, President of DITV , a 24/7 D&I news portal, examining the impact of global D&I news events on workplace relationships.

About the Author

Vanessa J. Weaver Ph.D.