Last week I had the privilege of joining a panel of inspirational women at the annual Aspire Making A Difference conference held at County Hall, Westminster. The Aspire Foundation is the brainchild of Dr Sam Collins and aims to make a difference to 1 billion women by 2020 through empowering women who are ‘Making A Difference’ working in not-for-profits, charities and social enterprises.

As part of the conference I was asked to lead a discussion on authentic leadership and the meaning of success. Authenticity as a concept has been explored throughout history, from Greek philosophers to the works of Shakespeare – think ‘To thine own self be true’ from Hamlet. While not a novel concept therefore, there has been a renewed emphasis in recent years on the virtues and power of authentic leadership.

I for one firmly believe that in the 21st century there is no single blueprint for leadership - the very fact that there were 300 female leaders present at the conference all with different personal and professional journeys was proof of this. Gone are the cold, distant, dictating CEOs of yesterday. In their stead are those who show personality, vulnerability and empathy; self-actualized individuals aware of their own strengths and limitations. There is a flexibility inherent in this conviction that allows for anyone to be a leader and I am confident that today’s and indeed tomorrow’s leaders will be those who embrace their own strengths and individuality.

Success in this context becomes a matter of perspective. While there are no reasons why traditional measures such as wealth and fame cannot be part of success, I am of the opinion that the strategic incentive has to be more fundamental and personal than this. The meaning of success for each must be subjective, driven by core values, and crucially both a goal and a journey.

Winston Churchill said that ‘Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts’. With this quote in mind, I would finally add that I think adherence to authenticity requires a certain degree of courage. In this present world of Google and LinkedIn where leaders can effectively be given star ratings in the public domain, it takes great courage to reveal your authentic self. Even more important to me as a female leader of a girls’ school is the need to instil courage in all girls and women so that they might bravely go forth and, as in the words of Gandhi, be the change they want to see in the world.

As we enter the Christmas period, I would therefore ask each of you to take a moment to reflect on your core values, on what really matters to you, and by acting in line with these, find meaning in all that you do. 

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