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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

What is Authentic Leadership?

What is authentic leadership? What is your authentic leadership style?

Whether you’re new to leadership or have been in a leadership position for a while, deepening your understanding of your authentic leadership style is always a great idea.

“According to Bill George, authentic leaders are driven by a moral and ethical purpose and never lose sight of their core values and principles. They lead with their hearts, cultivate long-term relationships and demonstrate excellence through self-discipline.” - The Leadership Institute

The Leadership Institute gives five steps for becoming an authentic leader. If you know your purpose, values and principles, have the heart for leadership, know the relationships you want to cultivate, and how to master self-discipline, you can step into your role as an authentic leader.

Authentic leadership is your natural leadership style. Authenticity is an inner knowing that you have to uncover for yourself and leadership is a skill you must continue refining.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to learn how you lead best. When you lead in a way that feels good to you, your team will naturally follow. And although it’s what is innate to you, it doesn’t always feel natural at first.

Authentic leadership allows you to stop hiding who you are outside of work and embrace more of your real self in the workplace. The vulnerability you offer is both freeing for you and encouraging for your team.

So keep reading for three ways to be more authentic in your leadership.

Authentic Leadership Tip #1 - Be the real you!

While it may seem simple for many of us, being ourselves is a challenge for a lot of us. Showing up to work or with our teams as the real us can seem uncomfortable, unprofessional, or like a bad business decision.

The reality is, though, that your team wants to know who you really are. And, I’ll bet, that if you are a leader leading in a way that is not true to you, you’re feeling pretty exhausted right now.

When I was younger and newer in my career, I didn’t understand what it meant to lead authentically. I thought it was “one-size-fits-all” when it came to being a leader. I tried out universal ideas for leadership, like leading like a man, and it only led me to frustration with myself and friction with my team.

Eventually, I learned that if I want to be a leader others want to follow, then I need to do it in a way that feels true, honest, and real to me.

I allowed my real self to show up and my career as a leader completely transformed.

Through dedicated self-awareness and committed growth, I was able to integrate all sides of me, both personally and professionally.

I was then able to broaden my comfort zone even further and find leadership styles that not only felt good to me, but also resonated with my team. Not everyone reacts to the same leadership or communication style and it’s important to reach every individual on your team in a meaningful way.

If you’re new to being a leader, start reading. You’ll find there’s all different types of leadership styles for you to try out. Read articles by different people and see what resonates most with you, and then try it!

Authentic Leadership Tip #2 - Don’t lose sight of the mission!

When leading authentically, it’s important to keep sight of the mission and vision.

An authentic leader stays focused on the goals and is results oriented, not letting politics or money get in the way of achieving great things.

Authentic leaders do what they do for the results, the change they are going to make, and the impact it will have on the lives of others. They are not solely driven by power, but instead driven by purpose.

Bill George, author of “Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value,” suggests to “travel to all operations and preach the mission and vision.” He adds to “be collaborative when establishing your core values, but once you have them, don't ever deviate from them. Stay focused on the mission, and drive hard for the vision. Give awards, celebrate victories.”

Empower your team through inspiration and motivation, providing them with the tools they need to complete their task, mission, or purpose.

When everyone is focused on one mission and dedicated to one vision, great things can be achieved.

Authentic Leadership Tip #3 - Discover your authentic leadership style!

The first step in discovering your authentic leadership style is to stop mimicking other peoples’ styles!

When I first started out as a leader, I became exhausted by trying to be the charismatic leader I thought I needed to be. I could be charismatic when I needed to be, but I couldn’t pull it off all day, every day. When I realized being charismatic 100% of the time just isn’t me, I saw how uncomfortable I was trying to mimic other people’s leadership style.

Start by watching yourself, your behaviors, your thoughts, words and actions when you’re leading others. Question where you developed those patterns and ask if they serve you now. Oftentimes the way we lead is inherited from other leaders we’ve had in the past, our peers, or even our parents.

Authentic leadership didn’t start to click for me until I began to understand who I really was. After that, I started to get more people that wanted to follow me. People started seeing me as a genuine, authentic leader.

It’s time to determine the way you lead and let go of the adopted habits.

Authentic leadership is leading from the heart, not the ego. Show up vulnerable, empathetic, and with your listening hat on. If you can do this, you’ll slowly start to see and hear others and allow their feedback and cues to guide you to how you can best serve them.

The more comfortable I was with being my authentic self, the more I made the people around me comfortable.

If you haven’t figured out your leadership style, it’s okay. It might take you a couple of years. Don’t give up. Keep digging deeper and understanding who you are.

Personality tests will help you understand things like how you act when you’re stressed and what personality traits of yours really resonate with others.

Learn to Lead Authentically

When you figure out your way to lead people, it can transform your career. You’ll gain loyal followers that care about what you have to say and want to be on your team for the actions you plan to take.

When I finally found the right mentor for me, I learned to lead authentically. My mentor helped draw out of me the parts of leadership that felt the most comfortable to me. I stopped yelling at my team and started listening. I came to realize that I can speak assertively and kindly, without having to be a “yeller.”

As leaders, we have to think about all the different pieces and parts of leadership and decide in what ways we are integrating these parts authentically and in what ways they may show up as inauthentic.

To discover your leadership style and transform your career or team, it all starts with you.

It may sound corny, but take some personality tests. There’s a lot of truth that can come from these. My results floored me.

Personality tests helped me to realize the attributes I’m really good at and the ones that aren’t so “me.” And the best part, the results show you how you may act when under pressure, stressed, or leading in a crisis.


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