What is authenticity and authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership may not strike you as a necessary category of persuasive leadership. Maybe it seems somewhat abstract, or perhaps too obvious to mention. But I think authenticity is a key element of persuasion. If your audience doesn’t accept that you’re coming from a place of authenticity, your efforts will likely fall flat.

So, what do I mean by authentic? Let’s define the parts and then combine them to see what they mean in sum.

Authentic means “of undisputed origin; genuine.” I would then add that authenticity is being true to yourself, being open with others and being honest. If you want to be a persuasive speaker, these traits are essential.

How do these pieces work in the context of authentic leadership? Bill George, in the Harvard Business Review, put it this way: 

“An authentic leader is someone who is genuine and true to what they believe in. They understand the purpose of leadership, they lead with very consistent values, and with their heart, as well as their head. They have courage, compassion, empathy – qualities like that – and they build long-term connected relationships. And they have the personal self-discipline to deliver extraordinary results from their teams.”

Hone in on this piece: “lead with very consistent values.” That’s important here. Not only do your values need to be respectable and of clear intention, they need to be consistent. You should identify your core values and stick to them, always, not just with certain company or in certain scenarios.

Being an authentic leader means you need to come across as legitimate. Sure, you can fake it ‘til you make it.But that’s no way to inspire confidence. In fact, you’ll find it’s far easier to be sincere, and thus consistent, if you lead with your values. 

Let’s revisit Bill George for one moment. He cites five qualities that authentic leaders must demonstrate:

  • Understanding their purpose
  • Practicing solid values
  • Leading with heart
  • Establishing connected relationships
  • Demonstrating self-discipline

While you consider these five traits, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to focus on human beings. Though I’m aiming in this book to show you the ways to navigate leadership in the 21st century, in a world of automation and artificial intelligence, at the end of the day you’re dealing with people. They have to trust you, and you have to seem sincere. I’d argue that it is even more important today, given how disconnected people are on a human level. Even as we all have an infinite number of contacts at the tip of our finger, interpersonal relationships seem to falter. As an authentic leader, it’s up to you to help rebuild a sense of community within your workplace.

Another important aspect of authentic leadership is that it isn’t necessarily innate. Some people may be born with the ability to lead others, and certainly that’s borne out by studying leaders throughout history. Every single one of us can be our true selves. 

Steve Robinson has a great quote on this:

“At its most basic level, authenticity means being genuine – not a replica, not a copy or imitation. In leadership being genuine implies that we are embodying our true selves into our leadership role. Being true to ourselves calls us to draw on the very essence of our values, beliefs, principles, morals and that all of these create our ‘guiding compass’ in the job.”

There are two buckets of leadership we should examine: authentic leadership and transactional leadership. 

Transactional leadership leans heavily on what could be defined as simply micromanaging. Transactional leaders focus on what basically amounts to: You do this, and you get that. This is a useful method of gaining results from people in the short term and accomplishing discrete goals. But a management style of sticks and carrots will not inspire confidence over the long term.

Authentic leaders inspire confidence in how their team views them, and also in the individuals themselves. Allowing people to flourish and find success in their own ways builds trust among everyone in your organization.

Keep firm to your beliefs, and you’ll be an authentic leader. Be yourself.



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