What it Means to Be an “Authentic Leader”

What it Means to Be an “Authentic Leader”

Even though authenticity has been explored throughout history, it is still a relativity new theory of leadership. Authentic leadership focuses on leaders dealing in a straightforward and honest way, staying true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

Being an effective manager requires that you behave authentically. Authentic leadership isn’t an act or something you can turn on and off even if you think you’re saying the right things and getting results. At the end of the day this approach fails because the people who work for this type of leader see through it. It’s impossible to lead effectively if people see you as disingenuous.

Author Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and the former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, and his colleagues, conducted the largest leadership development study ever undertaken. Their findings showed that you do not have to be born with any particular characteristics or traits to lead. You also do not have to be at the top of your organization. Anyone can learn to be an authentic leader.

The journey to authentic leadership according to George begins with leaders understanding their life stories. Authentic leaders frame their stories in ways that allow them to see themselves not as passive observers but as individuals who learn from their experiences. These leaders make time to examine their experiences and to reflect on them, and in doing so they grow as individuals and as leaders. Authentic leaders also work hard at developing self-awareness through persistent and often courageous self-exploration. Denial can be the greatest hurdle that leaders face in becoming self-aware, but authentic leaders ask for, and listen to, honest feedback. They also use formal and informal support networks to help them stay grounded and lead integrated lives.

The authors argue that achieving business results over a sustained period of time is the ultimate mark of authentic leadership. It may be possible to drive short-term outcomes without being authentic, but authentic leadership is the only way to create long-term results.

Being an authentic leader is about giving a message about your true self — one you must continually shape and deliver by thoughtfully choosing your words and behaviors to suit the people you interact with and the specific purpose at hand.