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Home » Blog » Authentic Leadership: A Double-Edged Sword

Our rising discontent with slick, airbrushed leadership is what makes authenticity such a desirable characteristic in today’s businesses—a one that, regrettably, is in short supply. Authenticity is associated with sincerity, honesty, and integrity by both leaders and followers. It’s the real deal—the quality that distinguishes exceptional leaders.

Authenticity is a state of healthy alignment between one’s own values and beliefs and one’s actions in the external world. Authenticity comes from developing your own style and leadership style — and from making life choices that reflect your values and personality.

Authenticity has its beginnings and foundations in ancient Greek history, where philosophers were famous for moral injunctions such as ‘know thyself’ and ‘be true to thine own self’. Snyder Harter(2002) defines authenticity as “owning one’s personal experiences, whether they are thoughts, emotions, needs, wants, preferences, or beliefs, processes captured by the injunction to know oneself, and implying that one acts in accordance with one’s true self, expressing oneself in ways consistent with inner thoughts and feelings” in his paper.

Success as a leader begins with authenticity – performing our duties without jeopardising our ideals or individuality. When we are genuine to ourselves, we earn the trust of others, and this trust enables us to accomplish tasks.

Leaders who understand the value of trust are better equipped to be truthful without being impolite. However, authenticity does not imply a lack of filters, political awareness, or sound judgement.

For centuries, artists, philosophers, and social scientists have discussed the concept of authenticity, and it would be naive to believe that we or anyone else could summarise this debate. Nonetheless, we hope that these thoughts will aid in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between self-expression and leadership. Leaders that understand how to manage their authenticity are more effective, and able to channelize their vision and energy along with maintaining committed followers.

Leading From A Moral Perspective

Authentic leadership is not what the majority believes. It is not merely about being genuine to yourself and leading authentically. It is considerably more and far better than that.

Authentic leadership is the term used to refer to a psychological construct that encapsulates a certain pattern of leadership action. While this is an intellectual statement, it essentially states that real leadership entails something specific.

At a high level, Authentic Leaders are typically optimistic individuals who have an honest and truthful image of themselves, who support transparency with others, who cultivate trust, and who endeavour to lead ethically. Authentic leadership is associated with positive psychology and frequently serves as the bedrock for charismatic and transformational leadership.

There is a significant distinction between Authentic Leadership as a construct and simply being authentic as a leader in that Authentic Leadership incorporates a positive moral framework and ethical foundation, which is frequently referred to as a “internalised moral worldview.”

The Four Components of Authentic Leadership

  1. Self-awareness: Authentic leaders examine their own weaknesses, strengths, and ideals in order to be more genuine with their team members. Self-awareness includes self-reflection, soliciting feedback, and being aware of the emotions of your team.
  2. Balanced decision-making: True leaders must examine both supportive and opposing opinions while making group decisions. With this technique of processing, employees are more willing to communicate their opinions and experiences, which helps to avert future conflicts.
  3. Being Truthful and Transparent: Authentic leaders must be willing to be open and honest about their working relationships as well as their own thoughts and feelings. When appropriate, this may entail giving team members constructive feedback as well as admitting when they are wrong. By leading by example, an authentic leader encourages transparency within the team and company.
  4. Internalized Moral Perspective: Genuine executives put the needs of the firm ahead of their own. The success of the organisation is a true leader’s principal goal, even if it means facing additional challenges and work.

Why Does Authentic Leadership Matter?

Leadership necessitates the presentation of one’s true self. You will fail if you try to lead like someone else, such as Bill Gates or Barack Obama. Employees will not follow a CEO that puts minimal effort into his or her leadership style. People desire to be led by a “genuine” person. This is in part a reaction to the tumultuous circumstances we find ourselves in. It’s also a reaction to the general public’s dissatisfaction with politicians and businesspeople. We’re all suspicious about being deceived.

While it is vital for successful leadership to present an authentic self, the concept of authenticity is frequently misinterpreted, not least by leaders themselves. They frequently believe that authenticity is an inherent quality—that an individual is either authentic or not. Indeed, authenticity is a feature that must be ascribed to you by others. 

Individuals cannot be authentic on their own. Authenticity is mostly determined by what other people perceive about you and, as such, can be managed to a big extent by you. If authenticity were a natural characteristic, there would be little you could do to regulate it and thus little you could do to improve your effectiveness as a leader.

The challenge of outstanding leadership, contradictory as it may appear, is precisely that of controlling one’s sincerity.

To be clear, authenticity does not come through blatant deception. It accurately reflects aspects of the leader’s inner self, implying that it isn’t a show. Excellent leaders, on the other hand, appear to know when and to whom to disclose specific personality qualities. They have the ability to adapt to the needs of the environments and people they lead while yet keeping their identities. Authentic leaders keep their eyes on the prize while never forgetting where they came from. They are extremely aware of their surroundings and rely on intuition formed through formative, often traumatic experiences to understand the expectations and concerns of others around them.

The good news is that your leadership style isn’t set in stone. It is entirely possible to establish a genuine leadership style. It allows you to recognise your own interests and ambitions, as well as how they fit with those of your teammates, and why they matter.

Working with a coach can help you learn much more quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Authentic Leadership?

The word “authentic leadership” refers to a psychological construct that encompasses a specific pattern of leadership behaviour. While this is a philosophical statement, it simply argues that true leadership entails a specific set of characteristics.

What are the characteristics of an authentic leader?

Authentic Leaders are often upbeat people who project an honest and accurate image of themselves to others, encourage transparency, foster trust, and strive to lead responsibly. They incorporate a positive moral framework and ethical foundation.

What is the difference between an authentic leader and a transformational leader?

Authentic Leadership differs from a transformational leader as a construct and just being authentic as a leader in that Authentic Leadership includes a positive moral framework and ethical foundation, which is sometimes referred to as an “internalised moral worldview.”

What does the concept of authenticity mean?

The concept of authenticity is defined as a healthy alignment of one’s own values and views with one’s actions in the outside world. Authenticity comes from developing your own style and leadership style — and from making life choices that reflect your values and personality.

Is it vital for successful leadership to present an authentic self?

Although presenting an authentic self is critical for successful leadership, the concept of authenticity is frequently misunderstood, not least by leaders themselves. They frequently feel that authenticity is a natural trait—that people are either authentic or not. Authenticity is, after all, a quality that must be attributed to you by others.