What is authentic leadership?

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Brene Brown.

Your guide to working through the incongruencies that come with being an inauthentic leader, the journey along the way, and how to then finally transform into an authentic leader. Remember that being an authentic leader is always a work in progress. 

Definition and basics

You may or may not have heard of the term “authentic leadership.” If it’s new to you, not to worry. It’s a relatively new concept for a lot of upper management. 

Essentially, authentic leadership alludes to the fact that your team, your people, your employees, whatever you call them, can smell when you’re just blowing smoke at them versus when you’re truly genuine in your words and actions. An authentic leader will have much less trouble inspiring loyalty, action, and engagement within their company than someone trying to “play a part” that they think others want to see but whose statements and actions are misaligned.

Stew on that for a second. Think about your company and your team. When you need them to step up, do they do so with enthusiasm and engagement, or do you have to ply them with incentives and “rewards”? Or even worse, do you have to be authoritarian and demand results by applying pressure and fear? Are the results you’re getting from your efforts what you are hoping for, or are they falling short?

Authentic leaders manage selflessly, focusing on cultivating positive long-term relationships based on ethics, trust, and innovation. The rub is that this management style requires a long hard look in the mirror. It requires self-awareness, sticking to core values, a vision for the future, empathy, fairness, and transparency.

Both leaders and their employees can be transparent with each other, resulting in continuous growth. Because of the transparency and trust that authentic leader places in their employees, the employees return long-lasting loyalty and hard work to the organization, which pays you back in much more than just financial dividends. 

How do you know you’re currently an inauthentic leader? 

The answer to this is that often, you don’t know that you’re an inauthentic leader. We’ve all heard the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This can often apply to our perceptions of ourselves as successful leaders. 

If you are currently an inauthentic leader, you’re most likely ignoring the symptoms. Do you have dissonance, both internally and externally? Internal symptoms will come from your mind or show up in other areas, such as your sleeping habits. Do you secretly dread going to work each day? Are you feeling burnt out and unmotivated? 

External symptoms will come from others, resulting in complaints and your team communicating to you about the negative things they notice. Is there a lot of in-fighting? Do you often see employees who seem unmotivated or calling in sick frequently? These symptoms help alert you that you need to improve and change to provide the best leadership you can. 

Internal symptoms

A major symptom of being an inauthentic leader is generally feeling out of sync and as if something is not right. Because of this, you’ll look to emulate others in a search to resolve this feeling of ineffectiveness. Even though you are emulating others, you believe to be quality leaders, and you find yourself second-guessing your decisions and straying from your true core values. If it’s a struggle to implement things that work for others, the chances are that it’s because those steps or tactics don’t jive with who you are as an individual.

Instead of looking to others, focus and put effort into developing what works for you. If you’ve recently risen to be in a new leadership position such as C-Suite, you may experience anxiety about not feeling like you’re good enough for this position. That’s normal! Pushing through this anxiety by focusing on your core values and using them to develop your own set of useful tools will help you feel more true to yourself.

External symptoms

We’ve all seen signs of external symptoms of inauthentic leadership in multiple companies throughout the world. Think about it. It’s a vibe you get the minute you walk through the doors of the place. The feeling of despair and lack of positive energy is almost palpable in many companies. This is where corporations begin to shrivel up and die.

If you don’t staunch the bleeding quickly, it’s often a rapid downhill slide into mediocrity.

Like we said earlier, you may notice a lot of in-fighting, gossiping, and a general lack of fulfillment and motivation among your team. It may even trickle back to you that your employees think you’re “so fake” or don’t care about them. This usually comes as a serious gut punch because, as with most good leaders, you’re doing what you feel is your best to show your people that you value them and take them seriously. You’re bending over backward to make sure people feel validated, so how can they not see that??

Once your team starts to view you as an inauthentic leader, they lose trust in you. Now it becomes a vicious cycle of putting out fires, and you both begin to resent each other. This is when things start to fall apart, with deadlines not getting met, bottom lines falling far short, and often, a mass exodus of what you once considered to be your best and most loyal employees. So, how do you demonstrate that you’re trustworthy and grow to be an authentic leader? 

The journey of becoming an authentic leader 

Becoming an authentic leader can be a long, transformative process, or it can be quick and reap benefits almost immediately. No matter the pace at which it happens, it’s going to involve some often painful introspection on your part. We’ve got some very valuable tools to help you approach this. Tools like 360 evaluations and leadership coaching can be wonderful aids. Here at One TEAM Partners, we’ve attended leadership coaching and undergone our own 360 evaluations to ensure success, so we know firsthand how valuable (and uncomfortable) they can be. 

What is a good 360 evaluation?

A good 360 evaluation asks those with whom you work closely to provide feedback on you. These can be direct reports, clients, and colleagues. From there, the evaluation should allow for anonymous responses and ideally be facilitated by an independent third party that will help ensure anonymity and consolidates the responses into themes. Last but not least, as a leader, you should put yourself in the spotlight. Don’t roll out the 360 to everyone as a “cover” for yourself (360s on others can be done later). Allow yourself to be the focal point of the unvarnished truth. A sphincter-tightening thought, we know, but this is where things get real. A major gut check will come. Invariably you will get feedback on something you feel is a strength that others don’t perceive the same way. Something you feel you have demonstrated you are good at and potentially what has made you so successful. How could others believe otherwise? Are you a fraud if what you feel is a strength is a potential weakness?

Uncover some harsh realities

It’s a tough reality to chew on, to find out you don’t see things the same way others do, but it’s also the catalyst that gets things moving in a different, more positive, and effective direction. It’s also an incredible way to check your ego in case you’re feeling too big for your britches. Once the sting of seeing how people perceive you wears off, it will become an invaluable tool to help you turn your company culture around. 

Of course, the flip side of this is that you also get to uncover your perceived strengths, so there is something positive mixed in there. You can then use this newfound information to adjust your strategies and change your behavioral alignment for good.

Adjust your mindset

You probably already know that an important part of being an effective and authentic leader is to have an open mindset and to be able to pivot quickly to adapt to ever-changing needs and climates. However, having an open mindset also involves being humble enough to share your thought process and unrefined ideas with others. 

So often, as leaders, we think our team doesn’t want to hear us work through the problems and challenges we face. Rather, they want us to have the solution and strategy at the ready. However, we’ve learned that many employees feel more cared for and more valued when they have the opportunity to work a problem together with you. Finding a solution as a team can work to your advantage. It lets your people see you as more personable and vulnerable, making you seem more approachable and human.

So, it’s a great idea to invite people into your process and have them give feedback, be open, and ask them to contribute. Even if you do not fully go down this path, simply exhibiting a willingness to share problems will result in people feeling that you truly care about their input.

Rather than act based on an “all-knowing” mindset in which you appear to have all the answers and a stiff upper lip, choose to show individuals around you that you care by inviting them into your creative process. You’ll need to do this by creating a beneficial environment in which they can easily participate. Some great questions to ask yourself when evaluating how you’ll go about this are:

  1. How can I be as true to myself and my thoughts in this situation?
  2. How do I fight the urge/tendency to keep things to myself and instead engage others in decisions?

Walk your talk

If you are all “business,” this can backfire and come across as inauthentic to others. Instead, recognize that nobody has the answers all the time, and you’ll need to be open and share with the people around you. At One TEAM Partners, we’ve got the tools and strategies you need to help make you the most authentic leader you can be. It can be a tough and winding road, and we will be here every step of the way to coach you, guide you, and give you the feedback you deserve to make a big change for the better. 

As leaders, we have walked this road ourselves. We have used our hard-earned experience to develop processes and tools that transform companies into ones that have excited and engaged employees. Companies that their leaders don’t dread going to each day. One TEAM Partners itself was launched this way. And we’re proud to say that during our initial growth phases, we have had so many who believed in and supported our business and values that we have had many ask how they can help and be part of the journey. It’s been an amazing, humbling, and rewarding ride so far, and we would love to share it with you.

Growing into your authentic self will free up a bounty of mental energy. Many worries will disappear as you’ll discover they’re not true to you. 

Stop living in pain

Take an Authentic Leader Exploration Session. This will aid in developing your values and then translating these values into an action plan to implement. It can also help you to recognize weaknesses and realize how to combat these areas. Overall, it will focus on all the principles of authentic leadership and explore how these can apply to your unique personality to produce your most genuine leadership style. 

Also, please take your own facilitated 360 assessment (we have ones we can recommend). This is an extremely useful tool for recognizing areas of improvement that you may not see yourself. 

One TEAM Partners will assist and speed up the process of eventually thriving as an authentic leader. We can help you find your style by using a personalized equation for success. We will show you how to excel in creating meaningful relationships throughout your entire company resulting in an abundance of growth and communication.


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