A Manager’s Guide to the Authentic Leadership Style

The authentic leadership style follows the principle that leaders should be genuine. That they should not cultivate a work self and separate it from their personal self but instead lead with both their hearts and minds. By being open about who they are, they are able to inspire teams for better performance.

Authentic leadership leans on characteristics like; being open and having moral integrity. The virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance also went hand in hand with authentic leadership according Greek philosophy.

Traits of authentic leaders

They are self-aware

Self-awareness is the understanding of one’s self; your feelings, your motivations, your strengths and weaknesses and so on. It is an important trait for authentic leaders to possess. Being self-aware improves how leaders conduct themselves and how they interact with colleagues and juniors.

For instance, a leader who is self-aware is able to plan for difficult situations and recognise their mistakes and take ownership of them before being told to.

Some techniques to improve self-awareness

  • Observing oneself
  • Being open to feedback from others on your actions and behaviours
  • Observing others and introspecting. By doing this, you can discover that you are making a similar mistake

They are growth oriented

Authentic leaders have a growth mind-set. Just like with self-awareness, they know that the traits needed to be a good leader are not learnt over night, they need to be practiced and improved on.

They are focused on developing themselves and this may be seen in reading books, taking leadership courses and attending workshops focused on their field and on leadership.

They champion the development of their team

Growth doesn’t just stop with the leader, they also encourage those they lead to grow. They see team members as integral parts of the organisation and they value their input. Because of this, they will support initiatives that up skill staff in order to enable them to make meaningful contributions.

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Especially in the era of tech development, various skills are needed from learning how to make a website to improving soft skills like communication. So make sure to create a learning environment for your team.

They are transparent

Authentic leaders are all about open communication coupled with empathy. They have the courage to speak up when they make a mistake and inspire others in times of difficulty. At the start of the COVID pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, sent an open letter that encouraged employees in a time of uncertainty.

Benefits of authentic leadership

It increases employee loyalty

Authentic leaders inspire loyalty among employees and the teams they oversee. According to a study on leadership and organisation development, the employees’ perception of authentic leadership serves as the strongest predictor of employee job satisfaction, organisational commitment and work happiness.

Employee loyalty is also increased by the knowledge that the boss sees them as true contributors to the end product. Further to that, these leaders share success with teams, giving credit where it is due to individuals and teams alike.

It emphasises ethics

Companies with authentic leaders are likely to adhere to high moral and ethical standards. This is great for brand perception, can lead to increased customer loyalty and employee retention. Adhering to codes also means a company’s legal risk might be reduced. Where they do mess up, like their authentic leaders, they will come clean and work to correct it.

The focus is on the big picture

Authentic leadership looks to the future. Leaders are focused on long term results and are able to communicate the vision to the team and rally them in getting there. This is one of the reasons they will ensure their teams are trained and fully supported. This is the only way they will be able to achieve the long term goal.

When they encounter obstacles, they are able to surmount them and more importantly, inspire teams to keep their eyes on the long term goal.

Criticisms of authentic leadership

Authentic leadership urges leaders to follow their heart. This can create a conflict when a leader’s personal objectives vary from those the organisation wishes to adopt.  This may not be the case with other types of leadership where decisions are generally guided by a set code.

The authentic leadership style can slow down decision making. Like its cousin consultative leadership, employees input is valued in decision making. While the end decision ultimately lies with the leader, discussions can lengthen the process.

Honesty, a corner stone of authentic leadership can turn problematic if it is not helpful. Some truths are hard to hear and depending on how they are presented, can be downright demoralising. Authentic leaders need to learn to be sensitive to those on the receiving end of their honesty.

The same criticism is aimed at the ‘be your true self’ principle of authentic leadership. What if your true self is not so great? To this, proponents of the theory propose cultivating self-awareness and a growth mind-set.

How to cultivate authentic leadership

Develop positive relationships

Authentic leaders know that positive relationships are key. Whether they are with bosses, clients, colleagues and especially with juniors. This is because they rely on them to do deliver work. Theirs is not a micromanaging style. Rather it is one that trusts those in their charge to do what they are supposed to.

They learn to connect with others by sharing, seeking feedback and acting on it. Because of this, employees are able to approach them, whether it is to ask for help or report an error.

Understand your personal values

Reflect on your personal values and see how they compare with the company values. It is easier for an authentic leader to excel when their values align with those of the company. This is because there is very little separation between the personal and work self with this leadership style. If it is in your power to influence the company values, do so and create values that you can fully support.

Practice empathy

An empathetic person is able to put themselves in another’s shoes. They can understand how another might arrive at a particular view point even if they do not agree with them. This is a tool authentic leaders should personally have and one they should also pass on to their teams.

Authentic leadership gives room to divergent views and voices. And if the style is to flourish, everyone and not just leaders needs to have empathy.

Ask for feedback

On your self-awareness journey you may learn that you have some blind spots about yourself. One way to address them is to ask for genuine feedback from colleagues, employees and those who supervise you.

Ask them to evaluate you and reflect on their responses. You cannot and should not change everything about you but it is good practice to be open to feedback. The ability to listen is another important characteristic of authentic leaders.

Warren Buffet can be cited as an example of an authentic leader. He trusts his people. When he invests in a company, he trusts those in charge to do their work. His charitable donations indicate that he is guided by a set of values and a moral compass.

In Summary

In today’s world, authenticity doesn’t just affect an organisation. It affects their external environment as well. Customers and clients prefer openness from the brands and companies they do business with. If authentic leadership is already being practiced within the organisation then it is easier to practice a similar dynamic with external stakeholders.

In order to enjoy the benefits of authentic leadership, it is it is important that leaders take the time to cultivate this leadership style.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.