The Greatest Leadership Trait? Being Authentic

Do you remember how leaders used to be? They were patriarchal, unquestioned and respected (or feared) by their workforce merely because of their position. As time passed and society changed, the most admired leaders were those deemed to be charismatic. Great leaders needed strong personalities.

More recently, there has been another shift. These days, there’s a call for leaders with strong emotional intelligence. Leaders now need also to be genuine. They need to be authentic. But what does this mean? And how can you, as a leader, be authentic?

Authentic business leader


If you genuinely listen to your people, three things happen. Firstly, you get important insight into what the key issues (and best ideas) for your business are. Secondly, people see that you are genuine and your reputation as someone who is authentic will start to take traction. Thirdly, people continue to tell you what you need to hear, not what they think you need to hear.

Be honest

Once you listen carefully and openly to what people tell you, you need to respond honestly. Sometimes, it’s not what people want to hear. But as soon as you start being deceptive, any hope of being respected will disappear.


Even if your aim in business is, fundamentally, to make a profit, it doesn’t mean that you can’t conduct your business in a caring way. In fact, this makes good business sense. The more you genuinely care for your people, and act in a way that recognises their needs as people, the more they will see you as genuine. So, as an authentic leader, you’ll find that your people will go the extra mile to reciprocate the care you have shown to them.

Give difficult feedback

It often feels kinder to avoid telling people when they are not performing or making mistakes. However, in the long run, your people will think less of you for not addressing the issue. If you give difficult feedback well, you will not only give the individual a fair chance to improve, you will also be seen to be strong of character and fair. If you’re not comfortable giving difficult feedback, seek out training.

Tell it how it is

For the most part, people see things as they are, often before you do. So, if the company isn’t doing well, be honest and authentic. Share the facts and, just as clearly, share the actions you are going to take to improve the situation. Denying real problems makes you look as though you prefer ‘spin’ to telling the truth.

Share yourself

You’re human and have a life outside of work. Telling people a little about what you enjoy doing, or sharing a story about your home life, shows that you are a rounded person, not just a business person.

Be yourself

Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You have your own strengths (which is why you were given your job). Use them and be relaxed in your skin. People can easily sense any attempt to be someone else as false. Trust that people will respect you as you are.

If you’re an honest, decent and caring leader at work, your reputation as ‘authentic’ will be secure. Being authentic may be a straightforward task, but it isn’t without it’s difficulties, and, of course, a leader is constantly being judged by the team. As recognised by comedian Dave Chappelle, “the hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself… especially when everybody is watching.”

Photo credit: Steve Wilson / Flickr


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