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Authentic leadership is something that the vast majority of people would agree is a desirable thing. To be authentic is to be open, ‘real’ and guileless. People should be able to know where they stand with someone who is considered ‘authentic’. However, how many of those people who admire authentic leadership would be able to give a full and detailed answer to the question, “what does it look like out in the field?”

One key aspect of authentic leadership is trust. The two concepts go hand in hand, as you can’t easily have one without the other[1]. It’s very hard to trust someone whom you don’t feel is acting authentically – you are constantly wondering what they really mean by their words or actions, and what they may be plotting or thinking in private. Again, defining a trustworthy leader is not straightforward as different people link trustworthiness with different characteristics, including integrity, sincerity, honesty, consistency, reliability, visibility and having a strong moral compass. All of these are worthwhile traits to encourage in a leader, but they all offer a slightly different slant on what it means to be trustworthy.

The long game

Of course, many of the characteristics associated with being authentic in leadership can only be identified after knowing and working with the person in question for a longer period of time. While first impressions may be favourable, we can only get a true sense of what a person is really like after observing them over time and seeing whether our initial assessment has turned out to be correct. Do they really live up to what they first seemed to be? Authenticity in leadership is not something that can be switched on and off at will, nor validated straight away.

Authenticity is a highly subjective area of human relationships and something that develops and become more and more apparent in the people with whom we work and interact over time. A new leader seeking to be seen as authentic by his or her teams must be patient and consistent in displaying the right type of traits to gain people’s trust and commitment over time. A large part of how successful a leader’s attempt to appear authentic is will be down to other people’s perception of how they are as a person and a leader. Once again, trust is key here, as the leader must trust that they are doing the right things to appear authentic, and that their teams are perceiving their actions and their thought processes in the desired way.

Following without fear

Good leaders inspire others to follow them without having to put the fear of God into anyone. We all want to live the best lives we can and be the best person we can be and seeing someone else try to do exactly that will help motivate and energise us to do likewise[1]. We admire traits such as courage to push through worries and stand up for our beliefs, as well as openness to show the world who we really are.

Empathy, dedication and a passion to help others succeed alongside us are powerful ways to demonstrate authenticity and inspire our teams to become agile, responsive and hungry for success. In other words, authenticity is about doing the right thing – and not being afraid to be seen to do so – on a consistent and non-self-serving basis.

A large part of authenticity is linked to self-awareness and the willingness to learn from mistakes. This also takes courage, dedication, empathy and the other characteristics listed above. Trying to deny, cover up or shift blame for mistakes does not align with authentic leadership at all, for how can you truly be whom you say you are when you are not telling the truth – to others or to yourself? Mistakes form a part of every single human being’s journey through life and it is how you deal with them that marks you out as authentic or not.

There is no weakness in admitting to a mistake and working hard to put it right[2]. This is the way that we grow and evolve in our leadership, right from the word ‘go.’ It takes courage to admit a mistake, but the rewards will be manifold. Learning how to fail successfully will help you achieve a clearer conscience a better quality of sleep at night and, quite possibly, will help your team and the wider business turn a corner and, over time, come out even more successfully than before.

You do you

In business, a good reputation is the most valuable asset you can possess and it can be lost far more easily and quickly than it takes to be gained. Ensuring that you show authentic leadership will strengthen your reputation, add to your credibility and help others regard you with a higher level of respect. Knowing how to be flexible enough to come across as authentic and trustworthy with different types and groups of people is a very useful skill to have; so long as you genuinely follow through with your promises, stated values and commitment to what you have said you will do and how you will behave.

This latter is especially important – so many business relationships have been ruined by someone causing another person to distrust them – and this is not something that can be repaired quickly or easily[3]. The trust and reputation will need to be built back up again from the very bottom. So, avoid the obvious pitfalls of letting people down, not using discretion, especially around sensitive or personal issues and refusing to acknowledge mistakes or apologise for them. Never try to fake interest or appear to agree to a course of action while intending to take an entirely different one – these behaviours will be found out very quickly.

Interested in becoming a truly authentic leader? Call Gayle today to find out about the training options currently available that will help you take your insights, self-analysis and leadership skills to the next level.

[1] Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p 83

[2] Source: (accessed 28 September 2020)

[3] Source: Harvard Business Review online: (accessed 28 September 2020)

[4] Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, pp 88

Post Author: Gayle Young