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Authentic Leadership: Establishing a Common Ground

Pictured: an undated photo of Marshal V. I. Chuikov with two Red Army generals.

Authentic leadership is characterized by sincerity, honesty, and integrity, and such leaders are approachable and empathetic, genuinely desiring the best outcome for their team. Marshal V. I. Chuikov exemplified and demonstrated authentic leadership, and historian Dr. Reina Pennington affirms this in her description of Vasily Ivanovich in Netflix’s series titled The Greatest Events of WW2 in Colour, Episode 5—"Siege of Stalingrad.” In fact, it was Dr. Pennington’s characterization of Marshal Chuikov that initially piqued my interest in pursuing scholarly studies of his life and work. She stated:

“He was a real ‘soldier’s soldier.’ He was approachable, genuinely concerned about his troops. He was someone who went to the front lines. He kept his headquarters very near the front lines. People said everything changed after Chuikov took command. And the biggest effect he had was on morale, just totally turned around morale for his troops.”

Being an authentic leader requires years of both positive and negative life experiences and a high degree of self-awareness. It also requires remembrance of one’s roots. In Marshal Chuikov’s case, he remained “in touch” with his peasant upbringing. Although he ascended to the highest military position in the Soviet Union, Chuikov never forgot his humble beginnings in a large peasant family of farmers. This quality helped him to relate to people from all walks of life. Goffee and Jones share their thoughts on forming authenticity in leadership in an article titled “Managing Authenticity: The Paradox of Great Leadership,” published for the Harvard Business Review in 2005:

“Establishing your authenticity as a leader is a two-part challenge. First, you have to ensure that your words are consistent with your deeds; otherwise, followers will never accept you as authentic. Everyone acknowledges and understands the need for consistency when establishing authenticity, but a great leader does a lot more than just pay lip service to it. He will live it every moment of the day. Indeed, it’s not an exaggeration to say that a great leader is obsessive about embodying his beliefs. […]

But it is not enough just to practice what you preach. To get people to follow you, you also have to get them to relate to you. So the second challenge of authentic leadership is finding common ground with the people you seek to recruit as followers. […] By the time a manager rises to a senior leadership position, he may seem like—and, indeed, may well be—a very different person than he was at the start of his journey. But despite any role-playing that goes on, the leader’s authenticity is still closely linked to his origins. […] Authentic leaders use their personal histories to establish common ground with their followers.”


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