Authentic leadership, per Rachel Burr, Catamentum, is based on relationship-building, trust and integrity for long-term success for leaders and their teams.

Authentic Leadership – The Key to Sustainable Success 

Authentic leadership based on relationship-building, trust and integrity can sustain long-term success for leaders and their teams.

Leaders navigate constant change, including new technologies, dynamic markets, generational shifts, and an uncertain geopolitical landscape, just to name a few. People want strong, authentic leaders to set the vision and create a path to success. But what is authentic leadership? 

“Authentic” is defined as “real, genuine, not false or copied.” Below you’ll see sources talk about how authentic leaders develop trust, demonstrate integrity, and build relationships. These are all important leadership behaviors that help to energize teams and organizations. However, I have a caveat for you to consider as you read this post. Do these qualities represent the authentic, real, genuine self of all leaders? The answer is, “No.” Some leaders are authentic jerks. In fact, most of us can act like jerks from time to time. We’re all a mix of good, bad, and ugly, and encouraging us to express our authentic selves does not give us license to inflict the worst of who we are on others in the name of authenticity. So, I believe it’s important to clarify the message. When leaders (and all people, really) tap into the best of their authentic core, that’s when they bring the true power of their leadership to the success of their teams, customers, and organizations. That is what we want from authentic leadership. 

Now that we’ve got that straightened out, let’s dive in. This article will examine the best elements of leadership and how leaders can develop and improve their authentic leadership skills.  

What is authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership has the power to create an environment where employees “flourish” in their roles, according to Frontiers in Psychology.  Authentic leaders build connections, empower their teams, demonstrate emotional intelligence, and build trust. In fact, a study in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal found that the strongest predictor of job satisfaction is when people perceive their leaders to be authentic. This authenticity positively impacts work-related attitudes and happiness. 

Integrity and ethics.  Leaders who hold themselves to the same (or higher) standards than they expect of others inspire trust and show a commitment to integrity.  By putting values, ethics, and people first, “purpose driven” organizations earn employee loyalty and engagement. 

Self-awareness and connection.  Beyond tasks and transactions, authentic leaders seek to build relationships, show empathy, and forge deeper connections with people. They demonstrate vulnerability, and show that they’re human. They don’t need to project an air of perfection, and they ask for help when they need it. To be authentic, leaders develop their skills to build self-awareness, and then consciously work to leverage their strengths and overcome or mitigate their weaknesses.  

Empowering others.  Authentic leaders know their success depends on supporting and developing their teams today, as well as developing emerging leaders for the future. Authentic leaders listen to others’ ideas, and they seek and integrate feedback to support a learning environment and collaboration. By focusing on growth, development, and empowerment, authentic leaders create the conditions for long-term success. 

Developing Our Authentic Leadership

Developing our authentic leadership may feel daunting. We don’t all naturally bring our best authentic selves to work (or life) every day. We need to develop our skills and create an environment that will help bring out the best in us. Here are a few ideas to consider:

Establish your values and vision.  First, decide what you stand for.  What’s your purpose?  What are the values that guide your choices?  What are the boundaries you won’t cross?  Each person will have their own set of guidelines. When we choose to work in an organization that’s aligned with our values, it’s far easier for us to be authentic in our leadership.

Next, inspire your team with a clear, compelling vision, and create a roadmap that lets people know where you want to go, and how you’ll work together to get there. Gaining people’s alignment is key. You’re only a leader if people want to follow you. 

Develop your EQ.  Authentic leadership requires emotional intelligence (EQ) – understanding ourselves, others, and how we work together. To develop our EQ, we have to develop our “soft skills,” or what I call the “critical intangibles,” like communication, teamwork, and managing our emotions (so they don’t manage us). These skills are essential for authentic leadership. 

Empathy is a big EQ skill, and an essential part of authentic leadership according to Forbes.  Like it or not, emotions play a huge role in our success. We may think we can leave our emotions at the door, but we don’t, we can’t, and we really wouldn’t want to. I could go into all the ins and outs of why that’s true, but let’s cut to the chase. Emotions are data, and empathy helps us decipher that data so we understand how people feel (whether that’s positive, negative, or something else), and how that might influence their reactions, alignment, and commitment to decisions and change.  

Create an authentic culture.  Authentic leaders create an authentic culture which in turn supports their authentic leadership. There’s a synergy between authenticities that reinforce one another. Together, they create an environment where teams and leaders operate at their best and thrive.  

Psychological safety is necessary for authenticity. It has come to my attention lately that some people may not like the label “psychological safety.” Let’s not get caught up on labels. Instead, let’s talk about what we mean. People need to feel safe to speak up, share their opinions, disagree, try new things, and take risks. When people don’t feel safe, they shut down and stay quiet. As a result, everyone loses out on the wealth of knowledge, skills, expertise, and perspectives that are buried in the quiet.  Without psychological safety and a sense of belonging, people avoid making waves, quit quietly, or quit not so quietly as they post scathing reviews on Glass Door.

Authentic leadership means tapping into the best of who we are to unleash the best in others. With all of us operating at our best, there’s no telling what we can achieve.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us.

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Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.