YLPD Houston: Learning about the Qualities of an Authentic Leader

By Srinivasa Mahankali

Houston: Fifty-five future leaders of YLDP Houston gathered at the Houston Food Bank on Saturday morning to answer the essential question, “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?”.  The session was led by Mr. Brian Greene, the CEO of Houston Food Bank. He showed us the operations of the non-profit organization through his lens and helped answer the question, “how to earn employees trust in you?”. The main four qualities of an authentic leader are having the ability to reveal your weakness, becoming a sensor, showing tough empathy, and being a unique leader. The commonality between all four qualities is the revealing of one’s own humanity. This is what leads to having trust in someone as a leader.

One of the key aspects of an authentic leader is having the ability to reveal your weakness to others. It establishes trust by allowing others to see that the leader has flaws of their own, just like other human beings. The key word is human, and it establishes the perception that the leader is also human, giving them authenticity. During the keynote, Mr. Greene mentioned that he uses “his weaknesses and finds others who can fill in those weaknesses”, transforming those weaknesses into strength. This is the focal point of creating your own team that works for you, and thus is what creates the strong foundation of the organization.

Being a sensor means to use intuition to gauge appropriate timing and course of action. When asked of how he used his sensing abilities during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Mr. Greene responded saying that he utilized his board team and met once a week to figure out best course of action. He used the available data at the time and applied it. The amazing part of his leadership was that he did not need to be there to lead his team. This had stuck out to me. His team could function properly without his appearance, which is especially useful in emergency situations. I believe this is the forefront of why the Houston Food Bank is a successful non-profit.

Tough empathy is an integral part of a leader. A leader must empathize with their employees to create a good flow. Leaders should provide to what employees need instead of what they want. They must listen to and give what the employee needs. In essence, they care about their employee’s work. With tough empathy, employees can know that their leader understands them and can therefore follow under them.

Being a unique leader is what sets you apart from other leaders AND what sets you apart from the employees. For example, one of Mr. Greene’s unique qualities was his emphasis for ethics and courage. Ethics is a core foundation for a non-profit and Mr. Greene believed that this code was essential to the Houston Food Bank. He also believed that every leader needs to work on ethics every day. Another one of his unique qualities from before was his ability to command his team without him being there. This allowed for him to have a social distance from others while running the organization efficiently.

Summing it up, to have trust placed in you as a leader, it is important to have the four qualities of an authentic leader: the ability to reveal your weakness, becoming a sensor, showing tough empathy, and being a unique leader. A true leader’s goal is to fulfill the obligations of the organization while keeping the trust of others around them.