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April 23, 2024

Keep it Real! What is Authentic Leadership?

You know those people who walk into a room and seem to easily capture everyone’s attention? How do they do it?! 

Well, it’s not just about being talkative or charismatic. The most influential people exude a grounded authenticity that’s magnetic. They possess a self-assured presence that comes from being genuinely comfortable in their own skin. It is a trait that makes them not just likable, but respected. In a world that often values style over substance, their realness stands out. This makes authentic leadership a powerful way to impact others. 

So what is authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership is about influencing others through the power of genuine presence and strong character. Authentic leaders are open, honest, and fully present, which enables them to connect deeply with others. Their egos aren’t in the driver’s seat. Instead, they are purpose-driven, closely aligned with their core values, and maintain a consistent identity both publicly and privately.

The concept of “authentic leadership” gained prominence in the early 2000s, primarily through the insights of Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic and a Harvard Business School professor. In his influential book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, George explores how authentic leaders of mission-driven organizations achieve greater results than those focused solely on the bottom line.

“After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity.” - Bill George

Why authentic leaders have more influence

Authentic leaders stand out from the crowd. They foster an environment where trust and loyalty flourish, enhancing team dynamics and productivity. Here’s why they’re more influential:

  • Trustworthiness: They display transparency in actions and consistency in words, building a solid foundation of trust.
  • Reliability: Their teams have clear expectations and feel secure knowing their leader is consistent and dependable.
  • Engagement: By being genuinely involved, authentic leaders inspire deep commitment and enthusiasm, driving superior performance and dedication.
  • Respect: They treat everyone with respect, recognizing individual contributions and fostering an inclusive culture.
  • Inspiration: Their genuine passion and commitment serve as a powerful motivational force that encourages others to follow suit.

How to be a more authentic leader

Now that we’ve answered the question “What is authentic leadership?,” let’s explore how to become a more authentic leader. Here are ten ways to enhance your authenticity as a leader:

Know thyself: Invest time in self-reflection. Understand your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and values. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of authentic leadership.

Lead with your values: Clearly define what you stand for and ensure your actions consistently align with these values. Whether it’s integrity, fairness, or empathy, let these principles guide your leadership.

Cultivate connectedness: Build genuine relationships with your team members. Listen well to truly understand their needs, motivations, and concerns. Authentic leaders are approachable and considerate, fostering a supportive environment.

Get beyond small talk: To create deeper connections and demonstrate authenticity, move beyond the superficial layer of small talk. The next time a coworker asks “how are you?” offer a genuine response instead of the automatic “I’m fine.” Sharing more personal insights or feelings invites others to engage more meaningfully.

Show your true self: Let your unique personality shine through in your leadership style and communication. Share your interests and passions, and show that you value the personal side of your team members as well.

Practice transparency: This means, for example, being open about your decisions and the reasons behind them. When leaders share their thought processes, challenges, and uncertainties, it not only humanizes them but also helps to demystify the decision-making process.

Admit a mistake: If leaders can admit their mistakes openly (at least some of them), it’ll humanize them and establish a culture of accountability and support within their teams, encouraging everyone to learn from missteps.

Seek feedback actively: Continuously seek feedback to understand how others view your leadership and actions, using it as a tool to align your self-perception with external perceptions and foster personal growth.

Be consistent: While flexibility is important, maintaining consistency in your core beliefs and behaviors reinforces authenticity and provides a stable and predictable framework for your team.

Commit to lifelong learning: Leadership is a journey, not a destination. Authentic leaders constantly pursue new knowledge, skills, and experiences to refine their abilities, whether through reading, attending workshops, or seeking mentorship.

Authentic leaders in pop culture

Surprisingly, pop culture has given us some memorable leaders whose styles echo the principles of authentic leadership. Here’s a look at four such characters. They not only inspire their fictional worlds but also offer real-world lessons in leadership!

An image of Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek as part of a blog about authentic leaders. The article answers the question "What is authentic leadership?"

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Captain Jean-Luc Picard exemplifies authentic leadership through his ethical decision-making and integrity. Steering the Starship Enterprise through the unknown, Picard consistently demonstrates a commitment to the values of the United Federation of Planets. His leadership style is characterized by his willingness to listen, his respect for different cultures and perspectives, and his unwavering moral compass. Even in the face of dilemmas where no clear right answer exists, Picard’s actions are guided by a deep sense of duty and justice.

An image of Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter as part of a blog about authentic leaders. The article answers the question "What is authentic leadership?"

Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter)

Albus Dumbledore, the wise and powerful headmaster of Hogwarts, showcases authentic leadership with his profound wisdom and commitment to doing what is right, often at great personal cost. Dumbledore’s leadership is deeply rooted in his values of love, truth, and justice. He is transparent about his own failings and vulnerabilities. This, in turn, fosters trust and loyalty among his students and colleagues. His ability to inspire and motivate others, while acknowledging his own mistakes, makes him a quintessential authentic leader.

An image of Mufasa from Lion King as part of a blog about authentic leaders. The article answers the question "What is authentic leadership?"

Mufasa (The Lion King)

Mufasa, the king of the Pride Lands, is a great example of authentic leadership in the realm of animated film. His rule is marked by fairness and a strong ethical foundation. Mufasa teaches his son Simba the importance of responsibility and the interconnectedness of all life. He emphasizes that true leadership involves serving others. His authenticity is evident in his actions and teachings, which are aligned with his core principles of respect for life and the responsibilities that come with power.

An image of Ripley from Alien as part of a blog about authentic leaders. The article answers the question "What is authentic leadership?"

Ellen Ripley (Alien)

Ellen Ripley, portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” franchise, emerges as an authentic leader under the most dire circumstances. Ripley’s leadership is not appointed but earned through her actions. Her decisions are driven by a genuine concern for the safety and welfare of others, even when it puts her at odds with corporate agendas. Ripley’s courage to stand up for her crew and combat threats head-on, while maintaining her integrity, showcases the essence of authentic leadership.

Bringing it all together

Again, what is authentic leadership? Well, we’ve discovered it’s more than just a management style. It’s a way of being that encourages transparency, integrity, and sincerity. By being true to who you are and leading with conviction, you not only enhance your effectiveness as a leader but also contribute to a healthier, more productive workplace culture. Authentic leadership isn’t just about achieving goals and hitting targets; it’s about inspiring and influencing your team in a way that is both meaningful and lasting.

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