What is Authentic Leadership?

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Written By Kevin

The insights I gained over the years help me lead and motivate teams to achieve business and operational goals. Allow me to share my learnings with you.

Authentic leadership is a relatively new leadership theory that emerged in the behavioral school of leadership theories. In this post we will dive into the concepts behind Authentic leadership to understand how you, as a leader, can put these traits into practice.

Theory of Authentic Leadership

This theory, developed by Bill George, emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself while displaying the four leadership traits associated with authentic leadership, that is; 

  1. self-awareness, 
  2. balance, 
  3. transparency, and 
  4. morality.

Authentic leadership differs from other approaches, in that it puts a specific emphasis on being true to oneself, however, taken at face value, authentic leadership could be misleading or even damaging. 

A toxic leader can be true to themselves and still be a bad leader. That is why true authentic leadership is about self-awareness, not just being true to oneself.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the first trait associated with authentic leadership.

Self-awareness is a fundamental trait of authentic leadership achieved through self-inquiry. Authentic leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses and recognize the value of this trait, a concept that dates back to Socrates, who believed that wisdom begins with self-knowledge.

Moreover, authentic leaders embrace their emotions and do not shy away from expressing vulnerability or revealing weaknesses and failures. This type of transparency makes them more approachable and relatable to their followers, as advocated by leadership expert Brene Brown in her book “Dare to Lead.

This is also related to emotional intelligence of a leader which we cover in a separate post.

Balance

Balance is the second trait associated with authentic leadership. For an authentic leader, balance means balanced processing. In other words, they reflect on their decisions to balance the needs of the task, the team, and the individual. In this way, they incorporate the thinking of John Adair in his action-centered leadership book

Balance is also reflected in other aspects of a leadership, such as work-life balance. An authentic leader is conscious of their physical, mental, spiritual, and relational gauges. They monitor their levels to make sure they do not stray into the red or run empty on any given dial.

Transparency

Transparency is the third trait associated with authentic leadership. 

Authentic leaders are known for their transparency and clarity in their actions. They have a straightforward approach and clear motives, without any hidden agendas. This trait is closely tied to the value of integrity, as an authentic leader upholds their values and keeps their promises. Consequently, their behavior is predictable, making them easier to understand and trust.

Furthermore, an authentic leader also practices relational transparency, which doesn’t mean they cross boundaries and become overly familiar with their colleagues and team members. Instead, they are friendly while maintaining a clear and consistent approach to roles, responsibilities, and boundaries, applying these standards to everyone they work with.

In addition, authentic leaders tackle conflict head-on, unafraid of difficult conversations. They do not hide their failures, nor those of their team, but rather, seek to learn from them and improve.

Morality

Morality is the fourth trait associated with authentic leadership. 

An authentic leader possesses a strong moral compass, with a clear understanding of their personal and social values. This concept is closely intertwined with self-awareness since living by one’s values necessitates a profound understanding of oneself. 

The emphasis on moral principles aligns with the idea of principle-based leadership advocated by Stephen Covey.

However, merely being self-aware and upholding one’s values may not be sufficient to gain the respect and attention of the people working for you. Therefore, the notion of morality is also linked to a broader sense of purpose and a commitment to a vision that transcends personal interests.

An authentic leader, like a transformational leader, has a compelling vision that motivates and inspires others to pursue a positive change that will endure long after they’re gone.

You can Become an Authentic Leader

If you want to become a more authentic leader, reflect on these four traits and how you can improve in each area. Consider your self-awareness, balance, transparency, and morality. 

Determine which area you need to work on the most and think about what you can do today to improve in these areas.

Becoming an authentic leader is not an overnight process. It requires a willingness to look inward and examine oneself honestly, with an open mind and heart. It involves a journey of self-discovery, self-improvement, and self-transformation. It is not just about leading others; it is also about leading oneself.

Authentic leadership has become increasingly relevant in today’s world, where trust in leaders and institutions is at an all-time low. People are looking for leaders who are honest, transparent, and have a sense of purpose beyond their own self-interest. Authentic leaders can build trust, inspire others, and create positive change.

Authentic leadership is not just for CEOs or senior executives; it is for anyone who aspires to be a leader. Whether you are leading a team at work, volunteering in your community, or raising a family, you can practice authentic leadership. By being self-aware, balancing your needs with those of others, being transparent, and living by your values, you can become a more effective and inspiring leader.

By practicing authentic leadership, you can become a more effective, inspiring, and trustworthy leader who makes a positive impact on the world around you.

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