The Epitome of an Authentic Leader

Posted by on Sep 19, 2016 | 3 Comments

Alvin and Friends

Alvin is the greatest. He is the epitome of an authentic leader. Truly. His warmth. His attention to the little things. His presence, filled with poise and grace. He’s not afraid to jump into the trenches and do what needs to be done. In less than two minutes he makes you feel welcome, appreciated, and deeply committed to supporting his cause.

Which, in his case, is his incredible restaurant, Alvin and Friends, in New Rochelle, NY.

No, this isn’t a restaurant review (although I guess it certainly could be), Alvin is simply an lovely man who exemplifies all that makes an authentic leader, and so I thought you two should meet.

My husband and son and I first met Alvin on Christmas Eve, three years ago. I was in the middle of tasting heaven (also known as his Lobster Bisque), when I caught my first glimpse of Alvin. This tall, elegant man, impeccably dressed, approached our table with a brilliant smile (I was at first suspicious  – we’re in NY – nobody smiles at you like that unless you’re on the subway and they’re asking for money). Within seconds, I felt like I had known Alvin all my life. I have rarely come across someone so genuine and magnetic.

Since that time, Alvin’s has become our favorite restaurant in NY. If my waistline could handle it, I’d visit more often (as it turns out soul food is better for the soul than the thighs).  I had originally thought that our Christmas Eve experience was unique. It was, after all, a holiday. Surely Alvin doesn’t personally invest himself this way on routine. He’s a busy man! He has a business to run! But I was wrong (husband, take note). Every time I go, whether it’s lunch with a colleague or dinner with friends, he’s there. He welcomes me warmly. He makes me feel special. Seen. Important.

My favorite definition of authenticity is borrowed from Bill George (Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO and author of Authentic Leadership and Discover Your True North) is: Authenticity: genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief – which sounds like a lovely definition but in reality is much more complicated than it seems. While pop-culture may lead you to believe that you needn’t care what others think to be “authentic”,  if you hope to ever lead or influence, you better darn well re-think that. For in a leadership role, whether you are deemed “genuine, worthy of trust, reliable, and believable” isn’t something you get to decide (well I guess you can, but it sadly won’t help you lead or influence) as it lives in the eye of the beholder.  The people you lead and hope to influence get to decide. Do they experience you as genuine? As worthy of trust? As reliable and believable?

Do the people you lead and hope to influence experience you as genuine? As worthy of trust? As reliable and believable?

Alvin gets my resounding “Yes!”

Yes, Alvin embodied all of these characteristics, but what was even more miraculous was that it didn’t end with him. Every person who attended to our needs at Alvin’s seemed to genuinely care. From the hostess who seated us, to the bus boy who refilled our water, to the server who took our order, the ripple effect of Alvin’s authenticity was obvious. They all seemed invested in our experience.

Imagine the impact that has on his business.

Leadership these days has been made so complex and so out of reach that most people have a hard time seeing themselves as “leaders” if they don’t have a the fancy title to back it up. But I don’t think leadership is about title at all. I’ve met too many people with fancy titles who I wouldn’t consider leaders, and too many people whose title is a poor reflection of the powerful impact that they have in their work. To me, a leader is simply someone people want to follow. They want to be a part of what you’re doing. They want to engage, and listen, and give their best.

A leader is simply someone people want to follow.

I suspect that’s why Alvin’s employees are so kind, and helpful, and sincere. I suspect that’s why they seemed invested in our experience. I suspect that’s why his restaurant was so crowded this weekend with smiling patrons. Because Alvin is the epitome of an authentic leader. He is genuine, worthy of trust, reliable, and believable and has earned the want  of his employees and customers.

Yes, the food is exquisite. The atmosphere lovely and inviting. But that’s not why I keep going back. That’s not why I want to tell everyone I know about the place and blog about it. I have become a true fan because of Alvin.

On the Alvin and Friends homepage, under the picture of Alvin, smiling that warm smile of his, is this quote: “Friends are people who understand your past, believe in your future, and are here for you now.”  I cannot think of a better quote to sum up how Alvin makes people feel. For while I doubt that he’d recognize me on the street if I passed him, when I’m there, at his restaurant, we are dear friends.  We are invested in one another’s success.

And some would say, that’s the kind of leadership that makes for good business.

©OnStage Leadership, 2016

Could you or someone on your team benefit from greater confidence, ease of presenting, and better leadership skills?   OnStage Leadership is coming to Dallas on October 20th (full, wait-list only),  and NYC on November 7th;  please notify us of your interest.  Sessions are filled on a first-come basis and limited to 12 participants.

KimberKimberly-Davis-Headshot-20142ly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!  If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!

If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk  or my interview with Alise Cortez on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel:  Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work:  Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.


  1. Alvin Clayton
    September 25, 2016

    Kimberly, I have never been one to believe my own press, but I’m so touched by your kind words about me and my restaurant. There is so much that I can say but I’m truly overcome by emotion,and am at a lost for words for your Assessment of me. I will humbly say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to giving you a hug and a big thank you at our next meeting. With gratitude Alvin

  2. Kimberly
    September 26, 2016

    You’re most welcome, Alvin! Thank you for being such a role model in our community!

  3. Do You Appreciate the Greatness in Others? -
    September 26, 2016

    […] almost comical. I had written to applaud my amazing experience at Alvin and Friends last weekend, and he had commented to thank […]

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