It was a bright sunny September morning last Saturday in San Francisco. I was there for a CFO conference. We (my friend and colleague) were walking around China Town. San Francisco’s China Town is a colorful and culturally diverse community. This particular weekend they were hosting the ‘Autumn Moon Festival’. If nothing else, this was for sure an ‘authentic’ experience.

We hear the word ‘authentic’ a lot these days. Authentic design, authentic culture, authentic life, authentic journey, authentic leadership — you name it.

On Sunday we held a seminar for a group of finance and technology executives about innovation and next generation enterprise management. To the audience, among other things, I was pointing out how the U.S. economy has lost its momentum while others are beginning to flourish. Global macro trends, a short-term outlook, Wall Street greed, combined with lack of innovation have taken a major toll on U.S. economy. It is hardly a debate that we have lost our strength in this global knowledge/innovation economy and competition from emerging markets is eminent (See my recent article on the emerging markets for more on this).

Over dinner that night, we, a group of 12 American executives, just couldn’t help but sooner or later get into political discussions (given the current presidential election season). The topic at the end boiled down to analysis of the leadership qualities that must lead our next generation. And how desperately we need an ‘authentic leader’ in this challenging global environment (socio-economic, climate, energy, security, religious – to name a few).

Since then, that conversation would not go away from my head!

One of my all time favorite movies is the Legend of Bagger Vance. In the movie, Bagger Vance one point says to Junah….

Yep… Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing… Somethin’ we was born with… Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone… Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned… Somethin’ that got to be remembered… Over time the world can rob us of that swing… It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas… Some folk even forget what their swing was like…

I believe that this idea of ‘authentic swing’ not only applies to us as an individual but to society, organizations, or even a nation. It is the rhythm or the soul that defines who we are and what we stand for. We used to have that ‘authentic swing’…

The Legend of Bagger Vance is a 2000 film directed by Robert Redford, based on the same-titled 1995 book by Steven Pressfield. The Bhagavad Gita – a Hindu epilogue of life’s mystical journey, inspired Pressfiled’s novel. But that is a story for a another day.

On my way back on last Tuesday, as we roamed around the San Francisco airport, I make my usual visit to the bookstore. These days the bookstore is filled with books from all sorts of pundits on the past, present, and future of America! The last two week’s releases alone includes The World is Curved, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, The War Within, just to name a few. Like a drunken sailor, yes, I pick more than two or three.

As I flip through some of the books while waiting for yet another delayed flight, the thought of ‘Authentic Leadership’ pops up in my head again.

In The Extreme Future, author/futurist Dr. James Canton, analyzes the key trends that will affect business and society in the coming decade. The last chapter of the book talks about the future and of America and democracy. In this chapter, among other things, he puts forth the following wake-up call:


  • 45 to 78 percent of economic growth is tied to innovation-base businesses
  • Foreign students are awarded the majority of U.S. scientific Ph.D. degrees
  • Asian business schools are graduating more students than those in the U.S.
  • Patent applications from foreign inventors are rapidly gaining on the U.S.
  • Total foreign research-and-development investments are rising faster than those in the U.S.
  • The fastest-growing innovation-based economies are in China, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Ireland, Singapore, and Israel (NSF, 2004).
  • Federal U.S. investment in the sciences is in decline.
  • China and India’s high-tech industries are fast growing on the U.S.
  • The U.S. is losing its global share of high-tech exports to Asia and the EU.
  • The U.S. is losing skilled immigrants who cannot get hired into the nation.
  • Education is failing to prepare skilled, high-tech-savvy workers.
  • Without increasing innovation investments, the U.S. will not be competitive.”

For more of James Canton’s forecast, visit

I think, this says it all — why now more than ever we need an ‘authentic leader’. Our authentic leader better be ready to deal with this less than encouraging status. In this era of complex globalization, it will certainly require more than just superficial understanding of issues inside our boarders.

In a recent speech, Professor of HBS, Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Medtronic, Inc. and Author of True North, Bill George said it best:

“Only by being “servant leaders” can one become an effective leader. Today’s problems – like poverty, health care, education, energy and the environment, and global peace – are too complex for any single person or organization to solve. They must be addressed through a spirit of collaboration, by bringing organizations and people together who have the combined capabilities to address all aspects of these problems.

To summarize, the 21st century leader’s job is to align people around a common mission and values, to empower them to lead, to act as a servant leader, and to collaborate with others to solve difficult problems.”

I may not agree that world is flat but I am in complete agreement with Tom Freedman on this:

“America’s problem is that it has lost its way in recent years…Yes, either we are going to rise to the level of leadership, innovation, and collaboration that is required, or everybody is going to lose big…things will have to change around here, and fast.”

Our authentic leader (who ever it is) better show up in January, 2009 to get our swing back!


“Now play the game… Your game… The one that only you was meant to play… Then one that was given to you when you come into this world… You ready?… Strike that ball Junuh don’t hold nothin’ back…give it everything… Now’s the time… Let yourself remember… Remember YOUR swing… That’s right Junuh, settle yourself… Let’s go… Now is the time, Junuh…”

– Bagger Vance

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