Gluten Free Leadership

“Americans will buy anything!” That was the comment from my oldest son, Zach, when I forwarded him an article from the Wall Street Journal by Sophie Egan, “Gluten Free Water? A Fad Without A Grain of Sense."

Have you noticed that gluten-free is everywhere. You can not go into the grocery store without being bombarded by it. My bananas had a “gluten-free” sticker on the, for crying out loud! I thought to myself, "No kidding, of course these are gluten free! Everybody knows that!" But perhaps I was missing the point of the sticker.

In the Journal article Sophie quotes the National Institutes of Healths’ claim that only 1% of Americans actually have Celiac disease. In this malady, a serious immune reaction is triggered by gluten which according to The Celiac Disease Foundation is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. (Hence my reaction about my bananas.) Gluten is the glue that holds foods together. Only about 7% of the population has Celiac disease or a milder form of celiac gluten sensitivity.

Even though the population of celiac gluten sensitivity is small, the market for gluten free products has just exploded and is estimated to hit $15 billion by the end of 2016. The pollster YouGov reports that 60% of adults have bought a gluten-free product and 10% of households contain someone who believes gluten is bad for them. Several surveys have shown that most people don’t even know what gluten is!

According to a recent survey of 1,000 people by Consumer Reports National Research 63% of people thought that following a gluten-free diet would improve physical or mental health. Yet there is little to no research that would support this. In fact according to Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General in Boston, “Unless you have celiac disease or a true gluten sensitivity, there is no clear medical reason to eliminate it”.

In his book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz states, "It's terrifying to think that we might not understand ourselves. That we might be mistaken about our own bodies and about the effects of what we put into our bodies on ourselves."

Authenticity Free Leadership?

It is that last quote by Leinovitz that really got me thinking. What if that quote was not about food. What if it was about our leadership? Could it read something like: “It’s terrifying to think we might not understand ourselves. That we might be mistaken about our own LEADERSHIP and about the effects of how we treat ourselves and others."

When I ask the leaders I work with what kind of leader they want to be, I hear two answers more than any other. “Servant Leader” and “Authentic Leader." I thought it might be fun for you to see how well you understand yourself in light of what it means to be an authentic leader. I wonder, do most leaders even know what it means to be an authentic leader?

What is Authentic Leadership?

The leadership literature has worked hard over the past decade to put some thought and definition into what it means to be an authentic leader. The leadership theory Authentic Leadership, at it's core has 4 primary components: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.

Self-Awareness refers to the personal consciousness that the leader has about themselves. Some important perceptual knowledge would include behavioral preferences, strengths and weaknesses, emotions, impact on others, motives, goals, core values, principles, and worldview orientation, just to name a few. Since the 1990’s most leadership development experts have espoused that leadership development starts with self-awareness.

Internalized Moral Perspective is a self-regulatory process where the leaders behavior is guided by their internal compass of standards and values. The reason it is self-regulatory is that the leader is guided not by the pressures of the outside world, but by the ethics formed by their worldview.

Balanced Processing also has a self-regulatory component where the leader is open to hearing all sides of an argument or situation before making the final decision. Recognizing and avoiding biases and favoritisms are hallmarks of effective balanced processing.

Relational Transparency is about being open and honest with followers. In the emotional intelligence world, interpersonal relationships are built upon mutual satisfaction by both the leader and the follower. To achieve powerful relationships, openness and candor are vital. This component is about being real about who you are and what you stand for.

How About You?

Now you have some context for what authentic leadership is all about. So, leader, how are you doing when measured against this standard? Is your leadership authenticity-free? Is something being left out of your leadership that is affecting your influence or your health as a leader?

How About A Quiz?

Here is a short quiz to measure your authentic leadership. Answer YES or NO to the following questions (Be honest. If you're not, then it could say something about one or more of the dimensions we are testing…)

  1. I can clearly identify my two biggest weaknesses as a leader.
  2. My actions always reflect my core values.
  3. I am always open to hearing all sides of any argument.
  4. I always provide my honest opinion when asked.
  5. I can clearly identify my two biggest strengths as a leader.
  6. I have my leadership principles written out for others to hold me accountable.
  7. I can clearly articulate important biases I have in my decision processes.
  8. I always give people the feedback they need, even when it is difficult for me to say it.
  9. My behaviors always align to my fundamental worldview positions.
  10. I make up my own mind, no matter what my boss or company says I must do.
  11. I actively seek out the opinions of others prior to making decisions.
  12. When it comes to being in relationship with me, “What you see is what you get."

To score your quiz:

Self-Awareness relates to questions: 1, 5, & 9 . Internalized Moral Perspective relates to questions: 2, 6, & 10. Balanced Processing relates to questions: 3, 7, & 11. Relational Transparency relates to questions: 4, 8, & 12.

How did you do? Most of you will have a hard time answering “yes” to all of these questions. That is the point. For example, if your actions don’t “always" reflect your core values, then what impact is that having on your authentic leadership? This is where all of the “gold” is in doing a reflective exercise. It isn’t what score you got, it is what that score reveals about me and what am I going to do about it?

This quiz could have been on a scale from 1=never to 5=always, with sometimes and most of the time in the middle. But as I thought about it, that might let way too many of you off the hook from really thinking about your leadership being authentic.

So is authentic leadership a dichotomous reality (Yes or No: I am or I am not. Sort of like being pregnant) or is it a goal (More of a process. Like losing 5 pounds)? Is the question even necessary?

Because if it is a dichotomous reality, then how are you doing? Do you need some development? If it is a goal, then how are you doing? Do you need some development?


Why not become intentional about developing yourself as a leader? Solicit some feedback from those in your area of influence on how you are doing in the 4 components of authentic leadership. Put a plan together and start intentionally becoming the leader you want to be! (Coaches are great resources for this kind of development. Why not find a coach and intentionally work on being a more authentic leader?)

Have a great week!