What Does Authentic Leadership Mean?
“Authentic leadership is the full expression of “me” for the benefit of “we.” - Henna Inam, author of Wired for Authenticity: Seven Practices to Inspire, Adapt, & Lead
75% of employees want to experience more authentic leaders at work, according to Harvard Business Review. Authentic leadership is imperative of a healthy work environment throughout the entire organization. Research shows employee engagement improves, job stress decreases, productivity soars, and work culture improves. Why? Because leaders are their authentic self.
What is Authentic Leadership?
“Know thyself.” - ancient Greek philosophers who proposed the concept of authenticity
In True North, author Bill George describes authentic leaders as those who are true to themselves and their beliefs. They engender trust and develop genuine connections. This enables them to motivate people to achieve high levels of performance. Rather than letting the expectations of others guide them, they are their own person.
Authentic Leadership Characteristics
Over time employees can develop the positive behaviors of authentic leaders. The following characteristics are prominent in authentic leaders:
Authentic Leadership Examples
The first step to developing these characteristics is to understand what these traits look like and how they show up in the workplace.
- Self-aware. Authentic leaders know their own self. This is the most essential characteristic of all. They understand and acknowledge their own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of their abilities. For example, a tech-savvy leader may offer to help IT with a strategic planning initiative but leave the creative planning to marketing.
They are aware of and monitor their impact on others. A leader will observe if their passion about an initiative is building excitement through the organization.
They openly share their interests, personal values, and goals. Teams know their leaders’ favorite things to do over the weekends, their values, such as time with family, and professional goals.
- Passionate about life and work. Teams see and feel the excitement and dedication of authentic leaders. They see their leader work hard through successes, failures, and perseverance. Employees appreciate their willingness to help others along the journey succeed.
“True passion attracts. If you have passion in your business, the right people will be attracted to your team.” - Robert T. Kiyosaki, American entrepreneur, businessman, and author
- Committed to their organization, teams, and to the team performance. Authentic leaders will give 100% plus to see that the organization reaches its goals. They also have the same ambition for their team’s success. The training and tools employees need to be successful in their roles and advance in their careers will be available.
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.” - Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States
- Goal-oriented. Authentic leaders’ work aligns with the goals of the organization’s vision. For example, if an organization’s goal is to implement a safety training program, they will be a vocal advocate of the training.
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” - Earl Nightingale, American speaker and author, and one of the most listened-to broadcasters in history
- Focused on the future and have a sense of purpose. Authentic leaders look to the future and have an action plan and timeline in place to reach their goals. Their sense of purpose in life drives them. This could be anything from owning their own business or mentoring others to traveling the world and exploring diverse cultures.
“You don’t get results by focusing on results. You get results by focusing on the actions that produce results.” - Mike Hawkins, former American football cornerback
- High ethical standards to guide them toward goals. A sound moral perspective and solid core values allow leaders to hold steady to their beliefs. Even when pressured to respond differently. They consistently do the right thing and show their moral courage in doing so. For example, employees may pressure them to not commit to an initiative that requires an enormous amount of time. Even though it will prove beneficial in the long run. They will hold steadfast for their commitment to the company and proceed with the initiative. Their team will know their leader will not waver as they are consistent in their actions.
- Trustworthy. Trust is the basis for a positive relationship at work. Authentic leaders are always true to themselves, their guiding principles, and their team members. They have the integrity to take responsibility for their mistakes as well as their team’s. This boosts employee morale and motivation.
- Empathetic. Authentic leaders have emotional intelligence and social awareness. They empathize and see others’ point of view. They closely listen to and empower those of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Employee engagement goes hand in hand with being empathic. Leaders make it a point to take a personal interest in employees’ lives. They’ll ask questions about their families, challenges, and aspirations. They create bonds of trust by truly listening and gaining insight into what employees are feeling and thinking. By doing so, this helps leaders understand employees' reactions to work situations. For instance, they understand why a deadline may be difficult to manage as the employee’s parent fell ill. They show compassion and are not judgmental. In doing so they make real connections.
- Active Listeners. Authentic leaders not only sincerely hear what the employees are saying but listen to what they’re not saying. They also pay close attention to body language. Active listening includes responding to the needs of others. As an example, if an employee says they need training to successfully complete a task, they’ll see the employee is professionally trained.
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” - Andy Stanley, communicator, author, and one of the 10 most influential living pastors in America
- Transparent in sharing their personal story and life experiences. Transparent leaders share stories when something went wrong or when they took a risk. They don’t hide the truth. Leaders announce short- and long-term initiatives and personal goals. They share initiative details. They don’t hoard information. Information is visible in a project management collaboration tool. They have relational transparency. They are open about their emotions and feelings. Authentic leaders have an open-door policy. They provide feedback so employees are more involved. This gives employees a chance to voice their opinions and ideas and feel part of the solution.
- Vulnerable. Authentic leaders outright acknowledge obstacles. They can be themselves and express what they genuinely think and feel. Even despite knowing the possibility of disagreements amongst other team members.
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” - Brené Brown, American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host known for research on shame, vulnerability, and leadership
- Intellectual Humility. Authentic leaders are aware that their beliefs or thoughts may not be right. They solve problems as a team rather than work in a silo. They give credit to other employees’ ideas and are willing to rethink their own viewpoint.
“Good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible.” - Mark Leary, lead researcher of intellectual humility
- Courageous. A good leader is willing to take bold steps. But they are always deliberate and prepared. They trust others to lead initiatives knowing they may make mistakes along the way. By being courageous and trusting their teams, business leaders earn employees’ trust in return.
- Trusting. They encourage their team to engage in fulfilling short- and long-term initiatives. Leaders include others in meetings and chats so they can share ideas and voice their opinions. They give their teams ownership of responsibilities and resist the urge to micromanage.
“Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” - Stephen Covey, American educator, businessman, and author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Resilient. Authentic leaders are not afraid of hard work. And they keep trying even after setbacks. For instance, they may be working on an initiative that has many obstacles. Perhaps dealing with others who do not have the buy in. However, they know with perseverance the initiative will be worth the ROI. They are resilient and don’t give up.
- Lifelong Learners. They recognize their skills and authentic leadership style and strive for continuous improvement. They take ongoing leadership training courses to stay current on trends, such as virtual team building and leading remote teams. And are always inquisitive and open to learn new things to enhance their personal lives and professional career development. Leaders also take other training courses to keep them current, such as courses on technological advances and how to work across different generations. They see the value in a true learning culture. To learn more, download our HSI whitepaper, 10 Benefits of a True Learning Culture.
"I am still learning.” - Michelangelo (age 87), Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and engineer
HSI Can Help
HSI’s leadership development training courses allow you to curate a curriculum around authentic leadership development, psychological safety, communication, decision-making, team building and more!
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” - John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States
Leaders may find it beneficial to watch authentic leadership development training courses like:
- What is Authentic Leadership?
- Introduction to Authentic Leadership
- Becoming an Authentic Leader
As well as other leadership development tie-ins such as:
- Empowering Others
- Empathy as a Leader
- Creating a Culture of Transparency
From a company perspective, leaders may suggest these training courses to their employees:
- Active Listening
- Strategic Thinking
- Emotional Intelligence: Developing Empathy
Many of HSI’s clients open their HSI training library to their employees for self-directed learning. Employees can choose off-the-shelf training video courses best suited for their unique needs. Sign up for a free trial of our HSI LMS. And have access to HSI’s Business Skills library to watch any of the courses mentioned.