Over the last 15 years or so the views of what makes a good leader has changed somewhat. When I first set out as a leader in the 80’s the emphasis was on what you knew, your skills and knowledge, your title and the number of years of experience. Now I train people who have these attributes but still find it difficult to lead others.

What seems to be missing from these times is the ‘people skills’ how leaders relate to others, their relationships and emotional intelligence. People skills are considered as ‘pink and fluffy’ by many organisations, however there is an underlying sense that this is something that is important to the business but somewhat intangible. Given current levels of distrust in leaders, being someone who can develop authentic human connections with people, someone who is trusted and respected, someone who is a fully rounded person is increasingly important.

In 2003, Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, challenged a new generation to lead authentically. Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are.

The majority of authors agree that authentic leadership goes far beyond being true to oneself (Ilies, Morgeson, & Nahrgang, 2005). Jensen and Luthans (2006), for instance, mention three additional characteristics that can be found in authentic leaders:

  1. They are motivated by personal convictions rather than attaining status or personal benefits
  2. They are originals rather than the copy of someone else
  3. The actions of authentic leaders are based on their personal values

These characteristics show that irrelevant of the leadership style they prefer, authentic leaders need to act in accordance with deep personal values in order to gain the trust and respect of others (B. J. Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, & May, 2004).

Being an authentic leader is being able to be yourself, knowing their authentic selves requires the courage and honesty to open up and examine their experiences. As they do so, leaders become more humane and willing to be vulnerable.

What Is Authenticity?

Authenticity is:

  • Being true to yourself.
  • Being open with others.
  • Being honest, doing the right thing.

Authentic leaders demonstrate these qualities:

Self-awareness, knowing who you are, your purpose.

This is the most important authentic leadership trait because you cannot possess the other characteristics if you do not first know who you are and what you are all about. You, in turn, are not afraid to be yourself, show yourself, and let your values be known to others.

Ask yourself: What are the moments when you say to yourself, this is the real me? What are your most deeply held values? How do your values inform your actions?

Having Emotional intelligence

Authentic leaders express and show emotions. Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman first brought the term “emotional intelligence” to a wide audience with his 1995 book of the same name, and Goleman first applied the concept to business with this 1998 classic HBR article. In his research at nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence.

Ask yourself: Are you aware of the subtleties of your own feelings? Do you usually know what other people are feeling, even if they do not say so?

Being genuine

You can’t ‘fake it till you make it’. You are comfortable with who you are and with others knowing who you are. Since you know who you are and what you stand for, you are in tune with your inner voice. You listen to what your inner voice tells you and you do it. But at the same time, you check your inner voice by listening and accepting the feedback and views of others before you make important decisions. Bill George (2007) illustrates this idea of not wearing different masks in his book “True North”. He challenges the reader to think of their life as a house, with the family being the living room, the personal life being the bedroom and the professional life being the study. He then asks the question: Can you knock down the walls and be the same person in all rooms? Can you walk from one room to the next without having to change who you are?

Ask yourself: What does being authentic mean in your life? Are you more effective as a leader when you behave authentically? Have you ever paid a price for your authenticity as a leader? Was it worth it?


You have the humility to admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake. You can truly ask for forgiveness when it’s necessary and take steps to make it right again.

Developing yourself as an Authentic Leader

What steps can you take today, tomorrow, and over the next year to develop your authentic leadership?

What motivates you extrinsically? What are your intrinsic motivations? How do you balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in your life?

Is your life integrated? Are you able to be the same person in all aspects of your life—personal, work, family, and community? If not, what is holding you back?

“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” – Lance Secretan