Authentic leadership is about embracing all parts of yourself – even the ones you might not like – and then leading from a place of wholeness and honesty.
In both business and personal life, relating to others with greater authenticity will help build strong relationships based on trust and understanding.
And this foundation sets everyone up for success.
Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be an authentic leader and the characteristics you’ll need to share your most genuine self with the world.
What Is an Authentic Leader?
An authentic leader is someone who leads others with openness and honesty. They aren’t afraid to take risks and try new things, or to take responsibility when things don’t go as planned.
Authentic leaders defy the conventional image of a stoic, unyielding figurehead. Instead, they demonstrate a strong sense of self-awareness and self-discipline. They know their strengths and areas for improvement and are always open to feedback and learning.
What Are the Benefits of Being an Authentic Leader?
Authentic leadership has a number of benefits, both for the individual and the entire organization.
It often leads to improved morale and employee engagement, as people are more likely to trust leaders who demonstrate openness and transparency.
In fact, a study published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal found that when employees viewed their organization’s leaders as authentic, this was the strongest single predictor of employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and work happiness.
And in your personal life, developing your authentic leadership skills can lead to greater self-confidence and a stronger sense of purpose as you learn how to trust your own abilities and level up your own life.
The Characteristics of an Authentic Leader
So, what does it take to be an authentic leader? Individual leadership styles will look different depending on your personality and the role you’re in.
However, successful leaders who are seen as authentic often have the following characteristics in common:
Authentic leaders are deeply aware of their core values, beliefs, and emotions.
You can cultivate greater self-awareness by taking time to reflect on your decisions and recognize how you’re feeling in any given moment. As a result, you can be more mindful of your reactions and how you’re treating others, as well as how others’ behaviours are affecting you.
Also, take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses, and how these impact others. This understanding will help you decide which actions to take yourself, and when you need to get help from your team.
As a leader, try to communicate as openly as possible. It can be tempting not to share every detail with your team because you don’t want to overwhelm them, or you simply don’t have time.
But you’ll find that sharing as much information as possible will help promote a culture of honesty and trust.
When you’re explaining a task that needs to be done, describe everything that will be required of your team, as well as the reasoning behind each step. Or if there’s going to be a change in your organization, let them know exactly what’s going to happen and why.
This transparency will help your team understand the big picture and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
3. Empathy and Compassion
The best leaders don’t view their employees or team members as tools to get a job done – they recognize that everyone comes with different needs, backgrounds, and values.
Take the time to learn about your employees’ life experiences and personal stories, as well as what motivates each person in the group.
Also, one of the best ways to build more meaningful connections and better relationships is to actively listen to the opinions of others.
When your team runs into a situation that requires tough decisions, approach it with curiosity rather than trying to fix it right away. Ask how everyone feels about a mistake or misunderstanding that might have happened. Get your team’s feedback, and look for ways to help everyone move forward.
Providing a safe space like this, where each team member can express themselves openly and be heard, also encourages others to step into their own authenticity.
4. Integrity and Trustworthiness
Keeping your word is essential for building trust and respect in any relationship, and it’s particularly important in a leadership role.
Whether you said you’d promote someone, or you promised to get back to a team member, make sure you follow through as quickly as possible.
Showing your vulnerability is another sign of trustworthiness. Sharing your fears or admitting when you don’t know something is part of being human – and your team members will appreciate your sincerity and authentic communication.
To lead effectively, you must be ready to step outside your comfort zone when needed.
Authentic leaders take risks – even if it means going against the status quo or challenging traditional thinking.
In business, this could mean introducing a creative new idea to improve sales, or launching an innovative product that’s different from what your competitors are offering.
But courage also applies to personal relationships. You may need to speak up to advocate for yourself or someone else in a conflict, or stand up for your personal values and beliefs when they don’t align with the majority.
Courage can take many forms, but authentic leaders are always willing to stick their neck out when it’s necessary.
6. Visionary Outlook
It’s also essential to hold a vision of the future, either for your team or your organization. And even better, be able to convey this vision in a clear, compelling, and inspiring way to your team.
As an authentic leader, don’t just focus on short-term gains. Plan out and prioritize your long-term goals, and consider how the actions you take today will impact your organization or your team over time.
Also, support innovation and finding better ways of doing things. Part of ensuring long-term success is staying flexible and resilient during uncertain times. Encourage your team to share their ideas and explore different approaches to routine tasks.
And lastly, commit time on a regular basis to learning and improving yourself – both professionally and personally. The investment you make in yourself now will almost certainly pay off over time.
7. Empowering Others
Authentic leaders understand that the most effective way to boost morale and achieve greater productivity is by creating an environment of collaboration.
Look for ways your team can take ownership over their work, and support them in finding solutions to any problems they might encounter.
Be sure to recognize each person’s unique gifts and talents, and delegate tasks that allow individual team members to grow and develop new skills. This will also help build a strong and capable team – all focused on achieving your shared vision together.
It’s also recommended to encourage people to work together on projects or tasks, so everyone feels safe and supported to take risks and try new things.
How to Become an Authentic Leader
Developing authentic leadership characteristics will not only help you become a better leader, but it will also benefit your personal and professional life.
If you’re wondering how to strengthen these characteristics in yourself, try experimenting with any of the following strategies:
- Read books by anyone you feel embodies the characteristics of authentic leaders.
- Seek feedback and practice being open to criticism – both from your team and in personal relationships.
- Take some time out each week to self-reflect on how you could have done things differently or better, and how you could make more informed decisions in the future.
- Join a leadership group or attend related seminars to gain insight into how to develop your own leadership style.
- Practice self-care and maintain a good work-life balance so you can stay energized and focused on improving your leadership practice.
And remember, learning to be an authentic leader is a life-long process. The Japanese philosophy of kaizen advocates taking small, incremental steps each day to improve yourself, which can make a big difference over time.
So don’t feel pressured to become a perfect leader overnight. As your team members see you taking steps to improve yourself, it will inspire them to do the same.
If you’re willing to put in some effort and develop your leadership skills over time, you’ll set yourself up to become an authentic leader who your team can look up to.
And in turn, this will empower everyone around you to reach their full potential as well.