At an early age, we’re taught that being a leader is far better than being a follower—that the way to make a difference is to put yourself at the front of the line.
From your professional career and pastimes to family life and friendships, there’s probably at least one person you could identify as a leader. This doesn’t mean that they’re a good leader, of course, but rather that they assume the role of guiding others.
And despite being oversaturated with self-proclaimed leaders, our world has a serious deficit of true, authentic leadership.
As Plato stated in his political masterpiece, The Republic, “those who seek power are not worthy of the power.” In other words, the people that pursue positions of leadership solely for selfish reasons tend to be the worst leaders.
So what exactly defines authentic leadership and how is it different than the run-of-the-mill leadership you experience every day?
What separates those who claim to be leaders from those who have the genuine gifts of influencing others, making ethical decisions, and building rapport with teammates?
Let’s examine some of the key characteristics of authentic leaders:
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word genuine means “free from hypocrisy or pretense.” An authentic leader not only talks the talk, but walks the walk as well.
As you may have experienced in your own life, the leaders that we tend to admire the most are the ones who lead by example.
This principle is painfully obvious in the parent-child relationship. Although a parent may tell their child to “do as I say and not as I do,” it is the behavior of that parent that makes a lasting impact on a child’s character.
To become an authentic leader, you need to ensure that your words are consistent with your actions—even if it means making personal sacrifices.
#2: Self Aware
An authentic leader recognizes their own weaknesses and leverages the strengths of their team to compensate. They’re also able to delegate tasks and trust team members with important projects.
Insecure leaders, on the other hand, have trouble with letting go and giving freedom and responsibilities to their team.
As self-actualized individuals, authentic leaders have well-defined goals and a clear vision of the future. They’re also aware of how their own strengths and weaknesses factor into completing their goals.
Honesty and authenticity are two sides of the same coin. A leader that is transparent with others and clearly communicates their intentions is also true to themselves and their values.
A transparent leader is also able to build trust with team members in a way that a dishonest leader can’t. When a team perceives that their leader is being opaque or possibly deceptive, morale drops like a rock.
On the contrary, transparency facilitates cooperation between a leader and their team, making it easier to accomplish goals together.
Authentic leaders don’t allow their emotions to control their decision making. Instead, they remain calm and collected in times of stress, always taking into account the wellbeing of their team.
They also stay true to their values while being open to alternative viewpoints and opinions. Although a weak leader may feel threatened by different ideas, authentic leaders thrive on feedback from their team members.
An authentic leader always refers to their moral compass when making decisions and never compromises their integrity for selfish gain. Consistent, ethical decision making—in both their personal and professional life—is what defines the authentic leader.
In addition to personal conduct, authentic leaders establish ethical frameworks for operating their businesses and hold employees to the highest standards.
They also help create a healthy company culture that promotes the wellbeing of their employees and strive to eliminate toxic behavior in the workplace.
Authentic leadership isn’t just another business buzzword; it’s a way of managing organizations, individuals—and even yourself—with full integrity. Whether you currently assume or are seeking a position in leadership, it’s important that you ask yourself, “why do I want to lead?”
Your answer to this question will determine if you meet the characteristics of a true, authentic leader.
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