Authenticity in Public Leadership: How is this Manifested?

by Sauvé Fellow Rolando Jr Villamero

Since I began working with different organizations both locally and internationally, hearing the word authenticity has become a regular occurrence. Authenticity, of course, refers to being honest and transparent in everything that we do as leaders. I personally could not agree more with the importance of authenticity for leaders. However, for a lot of people, the concept can be very abstract and hard to understand.

What is ‘authenticity’ within the context of public leadership? Authenticity is traditionally defined as the ability to conform to originality and genuineness in order to reproduce essential outcomes. Author Herminia Ibarra defines it rigidly as being true to oneself, maintaining strict coherence between what one feels and what one says or does, and making values-based choices.

My whole understanding of authenticity in public leadership was broadened and strengthened when I, together with the 11 other Fellows of Jeanne Sauvé Public Leadership Program, had the opportunity to meet Alan Shepard, President and Vice-Chancellor of Concordia University. He visited Sauvé House as a special guest for one of our Leadership Encounters.

How does Dr. Alan Shepard see and practice authentic public leadership at Concordia?

First, Shepard recognizes the importance of his own experiences as a source of personal learning – and strength. Specifically, he shared how his humble family beginnings influenced his philosophy as a leader. This is manifested, for example, in the university’s efforts to emphasize and expand individualized instruction. This, of course, implies that students come from diverse backgrounds and therefore need a diverse and flexible system that respects and responds to their needs.

Second, authentic public leadership is all about creating consistency between what leaders say and what they do. Simply put, we have to ‘walk the talk’. Shepard stressed that this perspective is manifested by translating Concordia’s nine key Strategic Directions into concrete actions. The ‘Get your hands dirty’ theme resonates with me a lot as a Fellow, especially as it is through Concordia that I become an active member of the university’s Critical Disability Group (CDG). Being a part of this group has allowed me to work directly with local Persons with Disabilities instead of learning about them from books.

Third, I agree with Shepard that authentic public leaders hold their values and views to be true not because they are socially or politically acceptable, but because they have gone through a process of self-reflection and have proven their convictions to themselves. Alan Shepard is applying his views on evolving pedagogy to a 21st-century reality by bringing innovative ideas to the table, such as blended and customized learning for students.

Finally, authenticity in public leadership means vulnerability. Dr. Shepard concretized this perspective by accepting that leadership is complicated. He and his academic community must continuously face major challenges, which range from competing with the world’s talents to ensuring that Concordia remains true to its mission as an academic community.

As a teacher, I am an advocate of experiential learning. When I was still in the Philippines, I had to ensure that my students always had the opportunity to learn ‘outside’ the classroom. This is exactly what leadership encounters at the Sauvé Foundation aim to do: providing us, the Fellows, the opportunity to learn directly from people. Through Dr. Shepard’s candour and sharing at the Sauvé House, I personally learned more about how I can manifest authenticity in public leadership. I am certain that the rest of the Fellows share a similar sentiment, as well as deep gratitude for the exchange.

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