It’s safe to say that everyone, at some point in their life, has encountered an inauthentic leader.

Inauthenticity in a leader harms individuals, teams, and ultimately the entire organization. 

Whether it was a “do as I say, not as I do” teacher, a manager who skated by doing the very minimum, or a company leader discovered to be cooking the books or embezzling, it’s an unfortunate fact that the effects of inauthenticity radiate far and wide.

Perhaps the most confounding thing about inauthenticity in leadership is that so many of these leaders are surprised to find that their followers don’t trust them and have no intention of giving their best efforts for them. How can any leader be so lacking in self-awareness?

Fortunately, the positive effects of authenticity in leadership radiate just as widely. Here’s what authenticity in leadership means, and what you can do to strengthen your own authenticity, no matter where you are on the corporate ladder.

Authenticity Requires Self-Awareness

Self-aware people know how to read situations and have an accurate concept of how others perceive them. Good self-awareness alone makes leaders less likely to wear masks or try to lead in ways that contradict their own ethics and values.

Self-awareness usually goes hand-in-hand with a healthy degree of caring about one’s own reputation and legacy. While there are self-aware leaders who simply don’t care what others think of them, they’re rare. In general, the self-aware leader sincerely cares about their team. That’s because a healthy, engaged team that understands the team mission is a team that is more likely to meet or exceed goals and do so in ways that are healthy and draw upon everyone’s strengths and skills.

Authentic Leaders Strive to Set a Good Example Always

The power of leading by example cannot be overstated. Even young children are aware when people’s words don’t match up with their actions. Adults that see a disconnect between proclamations and actions simply lose trust and disengage. Leaders who don’t bother to set a good example have a harder time managing teams, are likelier to lose team members and have a harder time replacing them.

The actions of setting a good example far outweigh words. 

This is not to say that the authentic leader is perfect. Even the most authentic and self-aware leader will have bad days. But they maintain their authenticity by owning mistakes, apologizing when necessary, and correcting course naturally.

Authenticity in Leadership Means Leading with the Heart and Mind

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings. But there are times as leaders when the purely rational approach is non-ideal. Authentic leaders don’t have to rely on sheer power or authority to motivate people. A leader who leads with the heart and the mind is better at engaging followers in their work.

In other words, the authentic leader knows that communication can be both direct and empathetic. People can be both rational and compassionate, and learning to blend the two in ways that serve situations and goals is far more inspirational to people than simply barking orders.

Authentic people in general, and authentic leaders in particular, are both fully committed to reality and fully committed to self-understanding. They know that while reality makes demands, so does the well-being of the team and the organization. The authentic leader demonstrates that “This is who I am. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying my best to make sure we accomplish our objectives without losing our souls.”

The aim of leadership development is never to strip the emerging leader of the unique qualities that make them an individual. Rather, leadership development is about helping people retain who they are at their core while building effective leadership skills. When it works, the result is authentic leadership – the kind that can move proverbial mountains.

Authentic leadership and Intelligent Leadership, as I discuss in my books, are two sides of the same coin. Inauthenticity can undo otherwise great leadership practices due to the loss of trust that inauthenticity causes. The bottom line is, no matter how high you climb in leadership, you must never leave behind your core self. If you want to learn more about authenticity and Intelligent Leadership, I invite you to check out my books. 


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