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Living authentically at work and life is the key to success.

But what exactly does this mean for people and culture leaders developing leaders for today’s important tasks?

Every authentic leadership act originates from ethical foundations.  Not a relative or situational set of ethics, but what others might call a guiding purpose or a true north. Successful leadership, and authentic leaders acquire legitimacy through honesty, a word out-of-favor in many corporate landscapes.

Honesty has been replaced by transparency, perhaps in a nod to avoiding truthfulness or as a catch-all for when legitimate needs require concealment and protection.

When leadership is exercised authentically, or from humanistic values, leaders build diverse and inclusive cultures.  Why? Because authentic leaders value followers, recognizing the inherent worth of individuals and groups engaged in progress.

People want to work for others who are real.  The ancient Greek dictum, know thyself, still frames commonplace definitions of authenticity.

Authentic leaders are positive people.  These leaders promote openness.  Psychologically and socially, authentic leaders have a truthful concept of self and thoughtful approaches to personal and professional development.

We also know that authentic leaders have a non-hostile sense of humor, that stems from abilities to express emotions clearly and freely. Above all, authentic leaders learn from their errors and mistakes.

Seven factors assist people and culture leaders, executive coaches, and organization development consultants in developing authentic-leadership-centered successful enterprises. As you consider the journey to building organizations where people do their best work, which of these factors can be strengthened in your company?

7 Practices Promoting Authentic Leadership in Organizations

Clarify Values, not profits over people and culture.

Today, Sir Richard Branson practices an approach that places employees before customers. At Marriott International, a similar approach was practiced when I lead Organization Development — take care of associates so that they can take care of guests. Given all of 2020’s hardships, it now seems self-evident to value people over profits. Authentic leaders care about others.

Encourage Success, rather than standard performance.

In organizations that consistently demonstrate superior performance through innovation, success is encouraged over performance. When excellence is endemic to getting things done, leadership practices coaxes employee creativity that leads to innovation and survival. Authentic leadership organizations spare employees of “gotcha” tactics and unfair institutional practices. 

Practice Equity, and reduce injustices.

Authentic leaders go to work every day believing that they make differences in the lives and livelihoods of others. They believe in possibilities and eliminate injustices in their organizations. They act quickly and thoughtfully, working towards the creation of democratic practices to drive organizational health and profit. We get better at eliminating injustices when leaders practice openness and promote satisfaction and belonging.

Speak Plainly, eliminate buzzwords.

Many are familiar with buzzword bingo.  It occurs what meeting speakers rely on jargon rather than relevance and clarity. Are you familiar with these contemporary buzzwords? Plasticity, human capital, circle back, fake news, and transformation. Authentic leaders value straight talk and candor, and are never brutal in their honesty. Language demonstrates a leader’s respect of others, enabling conversations that foster engagement and create community.

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Model, don’t train. 

Authenticity is a topic that resists classroom training. People follow practices established by their leaders and carried-out by their peers. Authentic leaders are quick to relate to others, and will lead by example. Authentic leaders know how to learn, and improve their abilities and standings through openness and practice.

Openness instead of guardedness.  

Communication practices in some organizations are defined by caution and guardedness. In high-performing teams, members and leaders demonstrate and openness and transparency. It’s true, that few secrets exist in organizations, and leaders are mindful of what they can and cannot say. Leaders will also question practices that are sustained because of the we-have-always-done-it-that-way approach!

Communities, groups, and networks replace heroes and villains.

Too many employees make heroes or villains of their bosses, when few are either or both. Decades o

f understanding establish that successful organizations reward and value teamwork. Little if anything is accomplished in isolation; everyday heroes replace ideas of shining knights, as if they ever existed beyond our dreams and fairytales. Authentic leaders build communities and are members of diverse communities.

Moving to Next Steps

Four words describe outcomes from authentic leadership:  1) happiness, 2) satisfaction, 3) relationships, 4) success. When and if you find evidence of these outcomes, you are in the midst of authentic leadership, enabling people and organizations to do their best. Questions about happiness and satisfaction often don’t rise in the hour-to-hour flow of Zoom meetings and socially-distanced workplaces, making our needs to demonstrate thoughtfulness more important today.

If you want to lead successfully and authentically, remember:

1. Be honest.  What you say and think matters.

2. Keep your word.  Be open to others and to learning.

3. Match your words and actions. Act with courage.

4. Don’t cheat. Don’t skimp. Strive to bring more of who you are to what you do.

Not only do authentic leaders improve individual and team performance, but they also generate the enthusiastic support of their followers.  What can you do to inspire authentic leadership?