In Search of Authentic Leaders

The dynamic in the business world is constantly changing and evolving. From what I see in most companies today, employees at all organizational levels wish to find meaning and fulfillment at their work. This means that most of these people are willing to work extra hard for authentic, trustworthy leaders and managers.

Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership. But a simplistic understanding of what it means can hinder your growth and limit your impact. ~ Herminia Ibarra, The Authenticity Paradox, Harvard Business Review, January 2015

People are neither easily fooled, nor quick to offer their loyalty, which explains why inauthentic leaders struggle to hire and retain exceptional employees. A workforce unmotivated by their leaders often “phone it in” each day, leading to a huge drop in productivity. It isn’t that they are intentionally “slacking off” or being lazy. They just aren’t being inspired to do better.

inspiration vision motivation leadership success

In the work I do coaching people, I often hear about the lack of authentic leaders and managers from employees. I have seen how inauthenticity contributes to the disengagement of the entire workforce. In fact, it’s a great pleasure and relief when I actually do encounter authentic leaders who genuinely connect with their employees and really make a difference in the workplace.

Here’s what differentiates authentic leaders from the crowd. Authentic leaders are masters at:

  1. Having a clear vision for where they want to go.
  2. Formulating sound strategies to get there.
  3. Finding ways to inspire others to join them.

To join this elite club of authenticity, leaders must align their people around a common purpose and a shared set of values. In order for people to perform at peak levels, leaders have to communicate precisely what is expected of them, and why it is important for them to do so.

To become a more authentic leader, it helps to be fluent in more than one leadership style, such as authoritative, democratic, collaborative or coaching. Great leaders are more agile when it comes to applying the most appropriate style as the situation dictates. No style will be effective, however, if you’re inauthentic when you attempt to apply it.

There’s no shortage of authenticity training for executives. Since 2008, the number of articles on this topic has almost doubled in the business press, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, and the Harvard Business Review. But how “authentic” is the authenticity training?

While virtually every leader has a sense of what “authenticity” means, few know how to develop it as a skill. To complicate matters, being authentic in today’s rapidly evolving global marketplace has its share of challenges. As Ibarra points out in her HBR article:

In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviors and styles… 

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

Do you work for an authentic leader? Do you believe you have a clear definition of what makes a leader authentic? I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.