What Is Authentic Leadership: Why Is It Important, and How Do You Adopt One?

authentic leadership
Image soure: Forbes

We all know that being authentic means being real. But, what if your ‘being real’ is detrimental to the growth of your company and your team? Is that what authentic leadership is really about, or is there more to that theory? Here, we’ll explain the characteristics of authentic leadership, with a real-life example.

What is Authentic Leadership?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of authentic leadership. The word acquired popularity in 2003 following the release of Bill George’s book of the same name, which he published in response to pervasive corporate fraud such as the Enron scandal of 2001. He felt that rather than just enacting new rules to force firms to behave, we should enable genuine leaders to take the reins and change corporate culture.

Authentic leaders, according to George, an American businessman and former CEO of Medtronic, are “people of the highest integrity, committed to building lasting companies” and “committed to stewardship of their assets and making a difference in the lives of the people they serve.”

Alternatively, Bruce Avolio and colleagues defined authentic leaders in a 2004 paper as “those individuals who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspective, knowledge, and strengths; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and high on moral character.”

Authentic leadership is really about being yourself and doing the right thing.

Characteristics Of Authentic Leadership

The characteristics of authentic leadership include the following: 

#1. A sense of direction

To achieve long-term goals, authentic leaders rely on purpose and vision. Even if the way appears difficult, they are not easily diverted or deterred from steering the team toward those goals. They can see the big picture and figure out how to get there without getting bogged down by the details. Authentic leaders may also properly communicate their vision to their personnel in order to unite everyone behind a single objective or purpose.

#2. Self-discipline

Purpose and vision are accompanied by strong self-discipline. The discipline to stay the course and achieve those goals is an important aspect of an authentic leader’s personality. Self-discipline also fosters team stability, allowing employees to know what to expect.

#3. Firm Beliefs

An authentic leader is comfortable and confident in their own skin. They have a solid set of basic beliefs that influence everything they do. Authentic leaders will not sacrifice their values in order to advance, close a deal, or gain favor. They hold their personnel to the same high standards. For example, if honesty is a key value, an authentic leader will demand that people act with integrity in all scenarios.

#4. Empathy and compassion

Because people in this group tend to lead from the heart, many authentic leadership examples center on compassion and empathy. They are aware of their team’s requirements and do not hesitate to assist them. For example, if a team member is overworked and stressed as a result of a huge project, an authentic leader will constantly check in and identify methods to support the individual. They are also not scared to share their true feelings and passions.

#5. Self-awareness 

Some leaders continue to press forward without looking in the mirror. Leaders that are authentic have a great sense of self-awareness. Reflecting on their activities and leadership moves enables them to sharpen their decision-making abilities for future scenarios. Authentic leaders can also examine their own strengths and flaws in order to maximize their efforts. An authentic leader, for example, can utilize their understanding of their own inadequacies to decide how to assign responsibilities that someone else can accomplish better.

#6. Relationships focusing on people

Authentic leaders thrive on connecting with others. They appreciate what others have to offer and wish to assist them in succeeding. Because of their genuine manner, they are frequently seen as mentors, and they recognize that active listening is an important aspect of good communication. They communicate with people in a real manner and make an effort to get to know them.

#7. Concentrate on progress

When someone is an authentic leader, they are dedicated to self-improvement. They already know who they are and are secure in their genuineness. However, this does not imply that they are where they want to be. They learn from their mentors and strive to improve in all aspects. They use their self-awareness to identify faults and evolve in order to avoid making those mistakes again. Usually, they make personal development goals to assist them better since they are very focused and goal-oriented.

#8. Transparency 

Transparency is a fundamental characteristic of an authentic leader since authenticity is founded on being open and honest. Some CEOs are secretive or believe that their employees should not be aware of the inner workings of the business. Authentic leaders recognize that transparency fosters trust, allowing employees to feel safe and confident. It also motivates staff to be open and honest with you. This enables them to approach you with problems or concerns.

#9. Team Success

Authentic leaders enjoy team accomplishment. They don’t take credit for what their team accomplished. When the team completes a successful project, they share the attention, and they guarantee that individual contributors receive recognition for their efforts. This fosters a stronger sense of team togetherness and demonstrates to employees that their supervisor appreciates their efforts, which can inspire them to maintain such levels.

#10. Open to new ideas.

An authentic leader recognizes that their path is not the only one. They are receptive to new ideas and often relish the opportunity to hear them. They carefully consider other people’s points of view rather than arguing with whatever they say. This can contribute to the development of a collaborative work atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable taking chances and sharing their creative ideas.

What is a Good Example of Authentic Leadership?

Here’s a real-life example of authentic leadership:

Former Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson

As the world was gripped by the epidemic in March 2020, Marriott’s then-CEO Arne Sorenson stated that his compensation would be reduced to $0. Furthermore, the hotel chain cut top executives’ wages by half.

As the travel sector suffered economic losses and unemployment, these acts exemplified the compassion component of authentic leadership. Sorenson didn’t just convey his regrets to his followers; he got into the trenches with them and showed his concern by foregoing his own income that year.

Why Is Authentic Leadership Important?

Here are some advantages of authentic leadership to an organization.

  • Employees are more satisfied with their jobs.
  • Improved working conditions
  • A preference for collaboration over individualism
  • Enhanced inspiration, creativity, and productivity
  • Higher overall performance ratings

What Is Authentic Leadership Theory?

Authentic leadership theory is a combination of qualities, beliefs, and talents that a project manager, company director, or team leader should possess. An authentic leader is known for being down-to-earth, honest, and an all-around “nice” person. Although being “good” is subjective, there are some actions listed in the authentic leadership theory that make it tangible when in charge of a group or a project.

What Are The 4 Components Of Authentic Leadership?

The four main components of authentic leadership theory are as follows:

#1. Self-awareness

A leader should be aware of how they perceive themselves as well as how others perceive them. Most importantly, how their actions affect those around them, for better or for worse.

#2. Transparency

It is critical for authentic leadership to have clear motivations for all actions. Strong communication abilities, as well as tact, are required.

#3. Balance

Authentic leadership requires the ability to traverse the dynamics of teams, tasks, and project needs so that each area is served to the fullest without sacrificing another.

#4. A strong moral sense

A decision-making inner compass aids in keeping workplace talks fair and equitable.

What Are The Three Pillars Of Authentic Leadership?

The three pillars of authentic leadership are self-awareness, self-regulation, and ethical behavior. They allow leaders to develop their authenticity and build a relationship of trust with their followers.

Are There Various Authentic Leadership styles?

Everyone’s authentic leadership style is unique. Even if two leaders who practice authentic leadership have the same principles, they may reach opposite conclusions when faced with the same scenario. Personality, culture, and experience all play a role in shaping who we are as individuals, which explains why there are so many different authentic leadership styles.

How Do You Become An Authentic Leader?

The good news is that your leadership style is not set in stone. It is entirely feasible to cultivate an authentic leadership style.

Self-awareness is at the center of this practice. Engaging in some type of self-reflection will get you far. It enables you to evaluate your own interests and ambitions, see how they fit with those of your team members and comprehend why they are important.

Working with a coach can significantly speed up the learning process. If you can’t afford a coach, here are some ideas for getting started on your own.

#1. Investigate your values

Every decision you’ve ever taken and every argument you’ve ever had is a result of your basic leadership principles and the importance you place on those values. Surprisingly, few people can express clearly what their essential principles are.

To begin, follow these steps:

  • Find a list of values online. Circle the ones that appeal to you.
  • Reduce it to your top ten, then rank them in order. If you’re having problems picking between two values, ask yourself, “Could I live without this?”
  • Finally, rate each of your values on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of how fulfilled they are in your life right now.

This will increase your self-awareness. It will also assist you in making value-based decisions and increase your awareness of what drives and inspires people.

#2. Keep a journal

If you want to understand what makes you tick, you must first observe yourself and then learn from your findings.

Make yourself a scientist. Observations can be recorded and analyzed to help you learn in the moment. It also has the additional benefit of assisting you in identifying larger patterns and cycles in your life.

#3. Gather feedback

Ongoing comments should be actively sought. Begin by texting 20 people in your life (at work and at home) and asking them to send you three adjectives that characterize you.

The issue with feedback is that you occasionally hear things you don’t want to hear. This is where the journal can help. Make a note of any feelings that arise (good or bad).

Consider this thoroughly. What caused these emotions to be triggered by the feedback? Is there any validity to the feedback? If you didn’t reply aggressively, one of your principles was violated. Which one was it, exactly?

#4. Be brutally honest with yourself while being gentle with others.

To be authentic, your ideas, words, and actions must all be in sync. This is especially true when it comes to bringing honesty to work and preserving it outside of the job.

When you are honest with yourself about the trade-offs you are making and why you are making them, you will achieve alignment.

That doesn’t imply you’ll always be able to establish a flawless compromise between the many factions of your own mind. However, it does imply that you will thoroughly analyze each choice and its implications before making a final decision.

Take an honest (judgment-free) look at your intentions before deciding whether to provide feedback to others. If the feedback isn’t going to be constructive, keep quiet until you’re ready to provide it in a constructive way.

#5. Improve your listening abilities

Genuine leaders are masters at listening.

The first step toward mastering this skill is to simply close your mouth when someone else is speaking. It may appear apparent, yet it is not always easy to implement. When others speak, you learn more than when you speak.

Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, use listening time to practice mindfulness and being fully present. Listening fosters understanding, empathy, and trust between managers and team members in this way.

#6. Tell your personal story

Sharing personal tales with your team can be a powerful approach to authentically inspire them.

A genuine leader utilizes tales to comfort, inspire, and motivate others. The trick is to use caution and not overdo it.

A leader who shares a personal triumph story during a time when the team is struggling might be motivating. A leader who tells a personal tale at every team meeting that no one else can relate to or has a personal stake in may be seen as narcissistic.

Keep in mind that genuine leaders are themselves, and they provide a way for others.

#7. Create your own ethical code.

What are you committing to as an authentic leader? What are your absolute non-negotiables? Also, what boundaries would you not breach, even if it means losing your job?

Invest some time in writing this down. See here for more information on creating your own code of ethics.

Once you’ve written it down, make it a reality by reading it aloud to a friend or coworker.

#8. Create a leadership development strategy.

Authentic leadership is a state of being rather than a destination.

The most effective leaders are constantly and actively growing. Make a leadership learning plan for yourself and evaluate it on a regular basis.

What resources do you have at your disposal to help you grow as an authentic leader?

#9. Be open to new ideas.

Genuine leaders give equal weight to opposing opinions.

Before making a decision, pause and ask at least three questions to thoroughly grasp the opinions of team members.

When team members make proposals that do not correspond with your present viewpoint, investigate the causes for these misalignments. Consider what they signify, why they happen, and why they are important.

It’s also critical to focus on what your team members have in common: a shared mission, vision, and values. Misalignments can be more easily addressed and overcome by concentrating on the qualities that unite team members, resulting in stronger, more collaborative solutions.

In Conclusion,

If authentic leadership is all about being yourself, that’s fantastic since you are quite capable of doing so. Perhaps your organization or your training have pigeonholed you into the mistaken assumption that there is just one “proper way” to lead. You can, however, undo those lessons and become more of the person you were born to be. Your team will benefit greatly as a result.

  1. SELF AWARENESS: How to Identify, Build up Skills and Benefits
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  3. HOW TO BE A LEADER: Becoming the Leader of Your Dreams
  4. 6 Elements for Effective Business Leadership


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