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Updated 29 Feb 2020

Are you an authentic leader?

Ebrahim Matthews, MD of Diners Club SA, shares his lessons on what it means to be an authentic leader.

30 May 2014  Share  0 comments  Print

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Whether you’re a business owner or an executive in a large corporate, leadership is a quality you need to exercise daily, the success of the business depends on it.

While some say leaders are born, not made, Ebrahim Matthews is a believer that whether you’re born a leader or you need to work on your skills, the best kind of leader is an authentic one, and that’s where his focus lies.

What is an authentic leader?

First I’ll tell you what an authentic leader isn’t. They’re the kind of people who attempt to be and act one kind of way at work, while their real personality comes out outside of work.

A leader who behaves this way isn’t likely to inspire trust amongst their employees.

An authentic leader is self-aware and genuine. They’re aware of their strengths, limitations, their emotions, and how they handle individuals and situations.

Most importantly, they show their real self to their employees, not hiding their weaknesses or mistakes out of fear of looking weak. 

It’s not uncommon for people and organisations to confuse a performance culture with being tough and weeding out the ‘bad’ or ‘weak’.

As a young leader, one can misinterpret strength and leadership as being a bully.

People respect authenticity and it’s a challenge to remain authentic when, for example, in a corporate you can be compromised by the notion that certain development areas, need seeing to in order to develop your career.

How do you practice authentic leadership?

I know who I am, and being authentic means caring rather than being tough. I’m the kind of person who will get up and walk the floor of my office twice a week talking to every staff member to see how they’re doing at work and in their personal lives.

Being a leader is about being visible and approachable.

My personal assistant is a working mother, for example. Because I communicate with her and care about her life and family responsibilities, she knows she can come to me when she needs time off.

What this means for the business isn’t just about knowing who is performing or underperforming and the reasons why.

Being approachable fosters loyalty and trust, and my staff know that if they need to leave work for any reason, they’ll put in the added effort to make up their work and do it properly.

What is the best leadership advice you ever got?

The best advice I ever got was to take your work seriously, but not yourself. Humour has an amazing power to energise people and diffuse tense situations.

There are times when it’s important to be serious, but reserve that for the truly tragic.

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