Why do you have to be true to yourself to lead?


Up-close-and-personal chats with New Zealand’s leading visionary CEOs

By Kim Goodhart

In the lead up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Nelson Mandela (the story goes) had to face down a room full of his peers, colleagues and followers – all of whom are in a meeting specifically to cull the Springbok emblem.

He was a lone voice, but he stood his ground. He had a vision for national unity and would not be swayed despite the cacophony around him. The Springbok emblem united the country in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and remains to this day.

In the first of a series of one-on-one close-up interviews that Real TV is doing with New Zealand’s leading CEOs, I talk to Southern Cross Health Society CEO Nick Astwick to find out about authentic Leadership. Nick makes the point that a good CEO or leader is true to him/herself.

Nelson Mandela remained resolute in the face of dissent that conflicted with his vision, but for many CEOs it isn’t much different.

Today’s CEO must manage the demands and expectations of customers, shareholders, board members and their people – all of whom are wildly different. Clearly, to succeed, a CEO must be confident that his or her vision is the right one and that confidence, I think, comes to CEOs who know themselves well enough to find the right organisation to lead – one that aligns with who they are.

The value of authenticity

Nick is clear that a CEO must be authentic. Don’t try and be someone you’re not for the role. You will only be successful in leadership if you are genuinely truthful to who you are. If you try to be somebody you’re not, then you will be caught out very quickly.

Nick says it wasn’t until he knew why he wanted to be a CEO, and what type of CEO he would be, that he found a fit with an organisation and a strategy that he could be true to himself. Only then did he become a CEO.

In fact, in the video <watch it here> he tells us how he failed to get the top job when he was trying to be something that his potential employers wanted, rather than who he was.

I believe it is the inner clarity that comes from knowing yourself and knowing what you believe that allows great leaders to make the seemingly impossible possible.

In the movie Invictus – which tells the South African version of events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup – there’s a scene where black children rush with joy to play with white rugby players. One rugby player says to another, “Did you ever imagine this?” To which his team mate replies, “How could I?”

Most people will never see what can be possible until it happens.

And while it may seem extreme to suggest that our CEOs and leaders need the level of conviction that Nelson Mandela showed. I believe our best leaders have the same authentic passion for the vision they are leading. It is this that is driving the changes within their organisations and it is this that inspires their people, customers, shareholders and board members.

When all these people start to see the vision become a reality they too ask, “Did you ever imagine this?” Leaders that are true to themselves and have vision can make the seemingly impossible possible and that is why I believe we need them.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

– Nelson Mandela

Photo by:  Quino Al

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