What is authentic leadership?
Authentic leadership is leadership that is genuine, real, and relatable. Authenticity is not an innate trait but instead a perception – followers will perceive someone to be authentic, perhaps due to their sincerity, transparency, trust or honesty.
Picture a leader who inspires you. It could be a celebrity, a political figure or perhaps even a family member. What characteristics do they have that you admire? Do they influence your leadership style? Perhaps the person you have in mind is authentic due to the various life experiences that have shaped their leadership path?
Corporate scandals, tampering with accounts, or unethically harvesting personal consumer data has not only led to public mistrust of leaders in different walks of life, but to employees feeling pretty much the same. Some studies suggest more than 63% of employees don’t trust their authenticity. Stakeholders want change. Stakeholders want people they can trust.
What makes an authentic leader?
Whilst authentic leaders must be transparent, they should also have a high level of self-awareness.
How do you develop self-awareness and demonstrate authenticity at work. You can start by spending time reflecting and getting to know yourself through journaling to help answer questions that support the development of self-knowledge.
Authentic leadership encompasses some of the following skills and personal qualities:
- Transparency. Authentic leaders strive to be open with their followers to establish a feeling of mutual trust. You may choose to be transparent by being open with the disclosure of information or simply through feedback.
- Self-awareness. Authentic leaders are often in-touch with their emotions, thoughts, and feelings, regulating their emotional responses and knowing the impact they have on others.
- Balanced processing and decision making. Authentic leaders consider multiple viewpoints and opinions before reaching a decision, to ensure an outcome or decision is balanced, fair and reasonable.
- Strong moral character. Authentic leaders can make ethical decisions free from bias and personal opinion.
How to be an authentic leader?
Being authentic all the time is challenging. It means being ready to peel back any facades you might be using to cope or manage your fears or insecurities (yes, even leaders have those!). You must be open, and your true and honest self. For some this may be a lifelong process of self-betterment, not an overnight flip of a switch. Remember that’s ok!
If you’re beginning to ask yourself how you should develop your leadership skills at work, try focusing on the following tips. Over time you will find yourself becoming more authentic, real, and transparent:
- Build self-awareness. Take part in any kind of self-awareness exercise that is available to you – personal development planning, 360-degree feedback, personality self-assessments. All these tools can help you gain greater self-knowledge.
- Reflect on your life experiences and values. Explore your values and be prepared to talk about them to help you develop authenticity. Use our values cards to help you understand which values are most meaningful to you.
- Create a trusting work culture. Research has found that employees tend to rate leaders as more effective when they are ranked high on levels of trust and transparency.
- Develop your moral character. Take time to reflect on your values and attitudes through journaling.
- Reflect on your life story. Deep reflection on critical past events allows you to fully understand the experiences that have shaped your perspectives and values.
How does authentic leadership impact your workforce?
Research shows the impact authentic leadership can have on employee behaviour. Studies have found that authenticity correlates to higher job performance and satisfaction amongst employees. Perhaps more interestingly it can result in the creation of a positive people culture through the promotion feelings of organisational citizenship.
Authentic leadership creates a culture of trust, helping to further improve already established relationships between the leaders and stakeholders. Internal and external stakeholders alike feel that they can place their trust in a leader.
A key question you might ask yourself as a leader is “how can I engage my people?”. Authentic leaders achieve this by drawing from their personal experiences to guide their behaviour and outwardly embody their values. Research has found this to improve employee engagement with employees often feeling that their leader is more credible. The creation of a trusting atmosphere can further lead to greater employee engagement. 2019 Gallup analysis found that more trust in leaders resulted in improved employee engagement.
After reading this blog, perhaps one question that should come to mind is ‘what kind of leader am I?’
Perhaps you are still developing your leadership style? Maybe you are reflecting on your character traits? Are you discovering your leadership intelligence? Whichever statement applies to you, remember that becoming a leader is a timeless process and at every step it is important to stop, check-in and reflect on the leader that you are and will become. When you check in on the direction you are heading, ask yourself this question “are you are the leader others would follow?”