How to Become an Authentic Leader

5 min read

people in a meeting discussing app development

We live in an age where authenticity is praised. We want people to feel like they can be themselves, and we embrace inclusivity. Although there is still much work to do and stigmas to be broken, the fact that we have these conversations regularly shows progress. 

Despite all of this, we still have many fake people online painting false realities. These are not just Instagram models or YouTube influencers that are always happy. These now include the countless number of people telling you that you can become a millionaire selling courses in a year. 

Nevertheless, our mindsets have changed over the years. We are supportive of those who dare to come out and tell their stories. And we promote those who are confident to share their views. Our change in mindset has enabled not only society to be more accepting, but also the workplace. 

People now feel like they can bring themselves to work. Funny enough, the rise of working from home due to the pandemic may have led to increased comfortability. 

During COVID-19, we saw meetings that were only concerned with catching up with people to see how they were. Unlike in the office, there was a dedicated time to have a coffee break with your colleagues online to have a laugh and ensure everyone was doing okay. 

It was exciting to see how comfortable people got with one another through the screen. People were willing to admit things like doing their laundry, struggling to get a good night’s rest and their bad hair days. 

I found that the time away from our loved ones led us to care more about connections today. And for the most part, it has strengthened our connections with each other in the office. 

With all of these positive connections and authentic individuals, there is an expectation for leaders to display these qualities. After all, it benefits leaders to be authentic in a world where it is highly regarded as something encouraging and to celebrate. 

One of the most powerful observations I have made returning to my office is that: 

“Not only do people want to feel accepted at work, but they also want to feel empowered to accept others.”

There are many ways we can install a positive culture into our working environment to ensure people feel empowered to accept others. However, one of the easiest ways is to be authentic to yourself and appreciate others’ authenticity around you. 

So, how can leaders allow their employees to experience their authentic selves at work? More importantly, how can they ensure that they can practice inclusivity by embracing the authenticity of others?

Authentic Leadership at Its Finest

It is important to note that authentic leadership is not concerned with how and why the leader is, but who the leader is. For the most part, we do our best to build models to show us how to lead. 

These models are helpful and more practical because it helps leaders navigate their landscape. However, authentic leadership answers the question closer to our hearts. And that question is: 

“Who is the person behind the leader?”

The formal definition of authentic leadership is: 

“A leader’s moral character, integrity and consistency between principles, words and actions.”

The definition is less concerned with how the leader does leadership. It is focused on who the leader is and how their actions align with who they are. To understand what constructs the authentic leader, we must consider four things.

Self-Awareness

We know individuals are self-aware if they understand their strengths, weaknesses and biases. Although we would all like to think we are aware of ourselves, in present moments, we tend to lack the awareness needed to make good decisions.

Observing from a third-party view can help individuals when in challenging situations. I will never forget a point in my leadership training when another leader tried to get their point across by pointing out where the other person was wrong. 

Admittedly, the individual was wrong about something, but he continued to defend his point because he felt he was being attacked. The debate went on for quite some time until it was pointed out to the person that was right that his approach was wrong. 

By making the other person feel small by pointing out their incompetence, he forced them into a defensive state. It seemed obvious from an outside perspective, but it was not so clear to the two people debating. 

Self-awareness for anyone is challenging, and leaders must constantly practice this to ensure they do not come across wrongly to those under their leadership.

Processing of Information

It can be easy to jump at the first solution we get to our problem. In a world where we have so many options, it can be hard to filter through all of them to come to a good decision. 

However, our authenticity as leaders requires us to ensure that we make decisions that are true to our character. Jumping at the first solution may be the easy way out, but it leads to inconsistent decision-making. 

Our decisions reflect who we are, and being able to process information is essential for making decisions that align with our values. Authentic leadership is not about being the fastest or most productive, it is about staying true to oneself. And that can often take time and careful consideration.

Moral Perspective

Despite individualism being celebrated in our culture, there is still much pressure to conform to certain beliefs. And the world is still full of stigmas and biases that affect different people in many ways. 

As a leader, consistently being guided by your moral compass and structures are pivotal to how your team views your authenticity. And those views will be challenged more often than not. 

However, it is not the challenge leaders should fear but their response to them. I have seen many leaders give up on their ideal or message because company culture or higher-ups did not like their view. 

Choosing to stick with your beliefs is probably one of the hardest things you can do as a leader, especially in a corporate environment. We are always being presented with alternatives and pushed to question what we believe about what we should be doing. 

Nevertheless, choosing to stick with your perspective and pushing the message you wish to amplify is essential to your authenticity as a leader.

Relational Transparency

Finally, this is the thing we think about most when it comes to authenticity. Relational transparency is all about how well leaders openly share information. 

When we are being authentic, we are willing to let ourselves be read like an open book. We no longer hide our beliefs or views. Instead, we openly share them and justify them. 

It is essential to note that relational transparency often works both ways. We are normally more willing to share when we see others doing so. Therefore, it is vital that leaders practice this as part of their daily habits. 

Nevertheless, these four components of the model highlight that authenticity is more than just being open. And when we see authenticity in this way, we can become better at being true to ourselves. 

Authentic leaders are aware of themselves and form beliefs on balanced and careful consideration. Then, they portray those beliefs to the world without fear whilst being open and willing to share with others.

The Importance of Authenticity

The rise of authenticity has brought many problems to our society, but it has also done much good. Inside our organisations, it has two major benefits.

Authentic Leaders Receive More Commitment

We have all experienced the attrition problem in our economy. So more commitment is something we would all like to see more. Unfortunately, with much uncertainty, it is hard to get commitment from anyone. 

However, openness allows for trust amongst leaders and those they lead. Due to having a good understanding of their leadership, employees feel more confident about the decisions they will make before they are made. 

Although this seems like quite a small benefit, it is reassurance in a world where everything seems unpredictable.

Authentic Leaders Inspire Creativity

As highlighted before, relational transparency is often a two-way relationship. As a result, leaders that are authentic tend to inspire authenticity in others. And this authenticity can often lead others to become more aware of themselves and feel empowered to do something that is self-motivated.

Being creative and coming up with new ideas is an act of courage within itself. You never know how people might react, and it could fail. However, being in an open environment allows for people to perform self-motivated activities, such as creativity.

So, if you are a leader or manager, think about the following:

  • How often do you engage in behaviours consistent with your words & beliefs at work?
  • How often do you admit to your shortcomings?
  • How often do you let people choose their initiatives to practice their own authenticity under your leadership?

Reflecting on these three things weekly will put you in good stead to become an authentic leader and inspire authenticity in others.

Tavian Jean-Pierre I am a Visionary and Writer at Tavian’s Blog who seeks to change ideologies, encourage others to find their creative spark, and inspire people through the powerful tools of writing and self-reflection.

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