TALKING SALES 147: "Authentic Leadership for high performance"

John Smibert

authentic-leadership-1             "Authentic leadership is required to achieve a high performance culture" - Interview by John Smibert

High performance cultures are what all enterprises - small, medium or large - need to strive for in order to survive and grow in this VUCA world.  And to transform a high performance culture requires authentic leadership. (See our earlier high performance culture discussion).

John C Maxwell wisely said; "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way".  Modern business thinking dictates that to do that a leader needs to be authentic. Why?

Maria Nordstrom 350x500I asked sales leadership guru Maria Nordstrom  to explain, from her experience, what authentic leadership is and why it is so important. 

She stessed that; "People will see right through you if you're not authentic and they won't trust you.

There is often a gap between the existing culture (what's happening on the floor) versus what the leadership team believes the culture is.

The key is, if you are not an authentic leader, you'll have a much bigger gap". A big gap means leading an organisation through cultural change to high performance is improbable.

Maria goes on to explain what true authentic leadership is, and states why leaders need to be authentic. If they cannot, they need to moved aside to let a true authentic leader lead the transformation to the desired culture.

View or read the full interview to get to learn more. This is likely to be valuable reading for CEO's, CSO's and Sales leaders.  This is the third in a series of 10 interviews with Maria where we explore sales leadership and high performance cultures.


Maria Nordstrom, Managing Director of The Upside Group, is an executive coach, a specialist in sales leadership and a change leader focused on high performance sales cultures.


John: I'm delighted to have Maria Nordstrom with me again - welcome back, Maria!

Maria: Thank you, John!

John: In our last discussion we used the word "leadership" a bit and we used the word "authentic" a bit. I'd like to have you talk a little bit about what you see as really authentic leadership. What does that mean?

Maria: Alright. So authentic, the word "authentic", describes it really. As a leader you need to be authentic, it means that you need to be trustworthy, you need to be able to listen, you need to walk the talk, and you really need to be seen to be leading the organisation - really, truly aligned to what you want the organisation to achieve. That leader needs to also not be threatened by other people within the organisation, feel that they have a great group of people around them and that those people as a group will achieve the outcome of the organisation. And an authentic leader will feel and sense that, and work with that.

authentic-leadership-2John: And what you're really saying is you need to be very authentic in yourself as leader. If you're not...

Maria: Well, people will see right through you if you're not authentic and they won't trust you. We talked in an earlier discussion about culture versus what the leadership team believes the culture is and what's happening on the floor. I think the key is if you are not an authentic leader, you'll have a much bigger gap between what you believe your culture is and to what's actually happening in amongst the troops - that's very key.

John: Over the years I've observed a lot of leaders that I'd say are not authentic, and they're the typical people who put a vision together and they'd put it up on the wall and they'd tell everybody their vision, and then their behaviour doesn't reflect the vision at all, they go and do something different.

Maria: Exactly. Or not doing anything at all.

John: Or not doing anything at all. And the same with any aspect of what they implement and the changes they try and drive, it needs to come from within them and they need to be open and transparent and authentic, right? That's what you're saying.

Maria: Absolutely. All those attributes go hand in hand for something to be truly authentic, and I think you have to have that from within you. Unless you really show that, people are not going to see it and they're not going to believe it.

authentic-leadership-10-out-ahead-with-telescope-700x300John: I can relate to that. I do a lot of personal branding, and the one thing I sit down with people and really work hard on is making sure they understand their authentic self and make sure they define that very well before they ever put a personal branding strategy together, because they need to project authenticity in themselves when they do their personal branding. Otherwise people see right through it, as you say.

Maria: Absolutely. I try to think of what I've seen in my career, and I've come across people that truly believe that they're authentic and will describe themselves as authentic, but certainly have either a very big ego or something that drives their own agenda from within that. They don't believe people see it, but people do, and therefore it becomes a challenge along the way, because it's very hard for an organisation to have a leader that claims authenticity but is not.

John: The cynicism builds up in the organisation and people go back to their old behaviours and really ignore the leader.

Maria: Yes, exactly.

John: Okay. So authenticity in the leadership is absolutely critical, and I think a key point you made is that not everybody's got it, and if you haven't got it you're probably not going to survive in a leadership role.

authentic-leadership-11-guillotineMaria: Correct.

John: When we're trying to get the right leader in place, authenticity in that person is obviously a key criteria for any successful leader.

Maria: Absolutely correct.

John: Love your story, love your information - great value for the leaders out there!

Maria: Thank you, John!


Access Maria Nordstrom at The Upside Group

View a previous discussion with Maria here:



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