Authentic Leadership is Not Perfect

I have resisted the temptation to write about the recent leadership changes at Target. I’ve resisted because frankly I don’t know enough about the reasons for the changes to credibly comment on them. So I won’t…. well, I might a little.

What I will comment on is the perceived “failure” of the outgoing Chairman, President, and CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel. I do not know Mr. Steinhafel personally but three people that I do know and trust have told me in the last couple of weeks that he was an authentic leader. 

If he was indeed an authentic leader then what happened at Target. Could he if fact be an authentic leader and still fail? 

What exactly “went wrong” at Target is highly debatable. Whether or not an authentic leader can fail is not. An authentic leader can indeed fail.

They can fail because authentic leadership is not perfect. No leadership is perfect because leaders are people. The last perfect leader to walk the earth was here 2000 years ago and I doubt there are any leaders around today willing to make the sacrifices He made to demonstrate their perfect leadership. 

Authentic leadership should also not be confused with Effective Leadership. They are two very different things. Authentic leadership is represented by “who” you are, effective leadership is represented by “what” you do. Effective Authentic Leadership is represented by “how” you do it. The best leaders blend it all together seamlessly to leave a leadership legacy that will last well beyond their time as a leader. 

 Effective Leadership is fairly common, Authentic Leadership is less common and Effective Authentic Leadership is less common still. 

None of that however is the real point of this post. The real point is about something that happened at Target this week. 

A person described as a “mid-level” manager at Target used a website known as Gawker to complain about the culture of Target and it’s overall lack of innovation. The post went on to say that without significant changes Target was destined to become the next Kmart or Sears. 

Apparently Gawker is a website for people who lack the courage to attach their names to their opinions. I have no problem with that; sometimes people may feel they need to remain in the shadows to say what really needs to be said.

Remarkably, a Target executive posted a reply on LinkedIn basically saying that much of the original post was accurate and that the truth hurts. To be sure it was a very candid response.

Now here’s my point: if you’re a leader in an organization and your people are complaining about your organization on anonymous websites then you have a problem. If your people need courage to tell you the truth then you have a bigger problem. If you choose to respond to what you admit is the truth on yet another public website then you have the biggest problem of all. 

I’m in no position to judge the leadership of a company I only know from standing in front of their cash registers. That said, I can say that trust is a vital commodity of leadership. Authentic leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their commitment. Effective leaders must have the trust of their people to earn their bias for action. Effective Authentic leaders know they must have both to ensure long-term success.

There seems to be at least a bit of a trust issue at Target. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that Target has been so successful for so long is the very reason that trust has been eroded. Perhaps the leadership just started taking the trust of their people for granted.

You can never stop working to earn the trust of your people. Never stop showing you care, never stop showing your people how much they, and their opinion matters. Trust isn’t earned in a day and once it is earned it must continuously be re-earned. Every single day. 

As a leader, what did you do to earn the trust of your people today? 

Think about that!

6 thoughts on “Authentic Leadership is Not Perfect

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