Blackberries, Trips to the Toilet and Canoe Racing: Authentic Leaders Say Whaaaat…

MBA student Michael Davis gives us his report on the Skoll World Forum panel, “Leading with Authenticity.”


Bill Drayton, Rafiatu Lawal, Sébastien Marot, Kelvin Taketa, Leading with Authenticity

It’s a business card bonanza!  Now I’m the first to admit I’m no guru of conferences, particularly not of international standard or with the profile of people at SWF but this business card swapping is something to behold. Whilst this might be fun for some, for others it’s a nightmare – full of awkward conversations and fear of rejection. This is problematic given many of the greatest leaders, best thinkers and thought provokers are introverts.  How do these introverts lead and influence, connect with others, promote their businesses, raise money and ensure they’re skills are being fully tapped?

These questions, along with many others on what is leadership, how a person becomes a leader and what makes a leader effective were some of the many interesting topics that were explored during the session on Leading With Authenticity.  With a panel including: the “father of social entrepreneurship” – Bill Drayton (whom an extremely jealous social entrepreneur friend of mine in New Zealand challenged me to have a “selfie” with (challenge accepted and failed!)); the rambunctious and highly entertaining Rafiatu Lawal; the “self proclaimed introvert” who admitted a good night out involves a Where’s Wally puzzle and a cup of tea – Sebastien Marot; the incredibly insightful Kelvin Taketa; and mediated by Diana Aviv whose entertaining call of “don’t feel sorry for her, feel sorry for me” comment when having to cut off Rafiatu; made for a broad diversity of thoughts and opinions on what authentic leadership is.

Some things really stood out for me.  As a current MBA student, I’ve been taught all kinds of things about leadership.  Whilst there are some universal truisms to leadership, dealing with social challenges creates whole new sets of issues that require an abundance of skills. A leader who is a social entrepreneur needs to be able to see history.  They work with people in incredibly difficult circumstances, requiring that they build a deep level of rapport, integrity and trust if they hope to be successful.  Leading with authenticity or, as phrased by Bill Drayton, having “ethical fibre” is crucial.

How to do this?  Aristotle noted that “he who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader”.  This was a pervading theme through all the discussion.  Leaders need to be servants to those they lead.  They must be collaborative, aspirational and focused on changing the status quo.  They don’t stand idly by watching things they’re frustrated by but actually get in and do something about it.  Adversity or a challenging environment doesn’t hinder them. They love what they do. They know who they are and don’t try to act like someone else.  They don’t play by the rulebook.  They are authentic!

Diana Aviv, Bill Drayton, Rafiatu Lawal, Sébastien Marot, and Kevin Taketa, Leading with Authenticity

The business card swapping and networking has its place.  Humanity’s biggest challenges are social and environmental.  To fix these problems requires smart people working together, creating new ideas, and sharing what does and doesn’t work.  Effectively initiating social change requires connection, networks, and an ecosystem of people working together.  But this networking needs to be followed by action. You can hand out a thousand business cards and send a million emails but until you’ve actually got in there and done something it doesn’t really mean much.  When it comes to doing something, authentic leadership counts!  If you’re a leader who is right for the moment, can envisage change, is effective and leads with service as a core value, it doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert or introvert; people will follow you and you’ll make a difference, whether a business card is in hand or not.