20.12.2015 : Helen Ferner

Strategies to becoming an authentic leader

By building trust and generating enthusiastic support, authentic leaders are able to improve individual and team performance.

We hear a lot about authentic leadership today from different perspectives.

The concept of authentic leadership emphasises building your legitimacy through honest relationships with followers that value their input and are built on an ethical foundation. By building trust and generating enthusiastic support, authentic leaders are able to improve individual and team performance.

Anyone at any level can be a leader
Throughout my career I have learnt that leadership is not dependent on your position. You don’t need a title.

Following the recent earthquakes I have been leading the seismic initiative across Beca.  I put my hand up and created the role. My work ranges from setting the strategy to technical leadership to risk and commercial management. I have presented at various conferences on seismic topics, prepared submissions to the government and am on various industry wide committees with a seismic focus.

Currently, all the structural sections in New Zealand are working on seismic matters including seismic assessments, repair and seismic strengthening projects and providing advice to industry and government.

Being an authentic leader is about having a vision and being able to share it with others to inspire them to follow.  One can’t be a leader without followers (that would be a lone wolf).

Women have many skills gained from their roles within the family maintaining the traditions, values and legacies of the household. They are master multitaskers who are highly collaborative and great at influencing positive outcomes and supporting others for success.

Here are my eight top tips to become an authentic leader:

  1. Know ones values and be true and consistent I am passionate about looking after our clients and giving them the best advice and service possible on time and at good value. Sometimes this involves my going the extra mile to achieve a project deadline.
  2. Follow your professional interests and passions but don’t be a slave to it My passion lies in earthquake engineering but I have worked on other things too e.g. project management including Auckland Airport redevelopment which has added considerably to my skill set.
  3. Always take on a challenge then look to turn challenges into opportunities When I joined the structural team for the Victorian desalination plant, I saw it as a challenge.  We had a huge task ahead to design the structures for the project within the required timeframes but also an opportunity.  How often does one have the chance to manage and lead a team of 110 structural engineers on a single project spread over five offices in New Zealand and Australia? I jumped at it!
  4. Work in teams Collaboration is key in my book.  My role generally means I don’t know all the answers so I tap into the expertise of my peers and together we achieve outstanding results. Working on Auckland airport was a good example. Millions of passengers were passing through a construction site which required lots of input from many people including the design team, government agencies such as customs and border control as well as airport staff to achieve the project objectives.
  5. Always say yes when offered an opportunity even if it appears to be inconvenient I got asked to drop everything and lead our response to our clients when the 22 February 2011 earthquake hit Christchurch and we lost our office.  We had over 400 requests for assistance in that first 24 hours.  I was busy on other work but it seemed the right thing to do so I arranged to pass the work to colleagues and took on the challenge. The seismic work continues to be a very significant percentage of our structural workload across the business and the relationships we have developed with the clients through this work are gold.
  6. Look after oneself Balance is important. I find I need quiet time periodically to reflect and think so I arrange my life to fit this in.
  7. Contribute to the wider profession and to society As a New Zealander, clean and green fits with my values and identity so I joined the board of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (now called Zealandia) on its formation.  One can now go and see Kiwi and Tuatara living right in the heart of Wellington City something that ticks my boxes.
    I have also been involved with various IPENZ activities over the years including being an interviewer for CPEng, serving on investigating committees, and the IPENZ neighbourhood engineers programme to name just a few. I always find I get so much out of giving that it encourages me to do more.
  8. Work hard and play hard - I have a classic 1955 Swallow Doretti which I lovingly restored and now enjoy taking it on trips around the country. Recently I was in Nelson on a tour with other enthusiasts.

A final thought by Bill George who coined the term authentic leadership:

Leadership is the sum total of who you are. Leaders are developed not simply born and we can all develop ourselves to be able to guide others. Anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader

I suggest you take some time to jot down your personal leadership philosophy and let that guide you in your professional life.

About the Author

Helen Ferner

Project Director

Helen is a technical director in structural engineering. She focuses on seismic risk mitigation including the evaluation and strengthening of existing buildings, and the seismic design of new buildings. She currently leads the Beca team for seismic work undertaken in New Zealand.

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

ADD A COMMENT
Jon Huxley · 21/05/2015 8:57:33 a.m.
Thanks Helen. Some great points. I like number 5 in particular. Passion is what drives this and if you have passion for what you do then number 5 becomes easy. And it's number 5 which gives you chances to learn and develop in life. The learning for me is to find what your passion is and go for it!

Vero · 12/05/2015 11:02:00 p.m.
What a great article and I love the photo!

Heather perring · 12/05/2015 7:10:30 p.m.
Fantastic article Helen! Very inspirational, thank you for sharing.