In recent years, authentic leadership has gained significant attention in the business world. Authentic leadership is a leadership style that emphasizes the leader’s genuine and transparent approach to leading others. It is a leadership style that values self-awareness, honesty, and transparency.

Authentic leadership is the bedrock of trustworthy, esteemed, and considerate leadership. Coaching can assist individuals in developing authentic leadership by fostering self-awareness, which encourages them to clarify, deeply understand and act upon their values. The process starts with a deeper comprehension of one’s beliefs and values and the factors that led to their formation. Leaders lead by example when it comes to values. By being authentic, they establish trust and respect, demonstrate values to others, foster trust, encourage others to practice their values and bring people together around shared values. They collaborate authentically to achieve success for themselves, the organization, and their stakeholders.

In this article, we will break down precisely what it means to be an authentic leader, highlight some ways to develop your authenticity as a leader and provide some examples of real-world authentic leaders.

 What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership is a leadership style that emphasizes the leader’s genuineness, transparency, and self-awareness of the practice of their values. Authentic leaders are comfortable being themselves and bringing their true selves to work. They lead purposefully and passionately and stay true to their values, even in challenging situations.

Authentic leaders are committed to their values and beliefs and are not afraid to take a stand on issues that matter to them. They build trust with their followers by being open and respectfully honest and leading by example. They create an environment where people feel safe to express their opinions and ideas and where everyone’s contributions are valued.

The phrase authentic leadership comes from Bill George, prior Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, who has also authored the book Authentic Leadership (2005). From Bill George’s work, Harvard Business School shares that authentic leadership is a leadership style “exhibited by individuals who have high standards of integrity, take responsibility for their actions and make decisions based on principle rather than short-term success. They use their inner compasses to guide their daily actions, which enables them to earn the trust of their employees, peers, and shareholders—creating approachable work environments and boosting team performance.”

Further, Bill George shares that “authentic leaders of mission-driven companies will create far greater shareholder value than financially oriented companies.”

 Why is Authentic Leadership Important?

Authentic leadership is essential because it can significantly impact the performance and success of an organization. When leaders are genuine, they create a culture of trust and transparency, leading to increased employee engagement, higher levels of job satisfaction, and greater organizational commitment.

Research has shown that when employees feel that their leaders are authentic, they are more likely to feel engaged in their work and committed to their organization. They are also more likely to trust their leaders and feel that their leaders have their best interests in mind.

 The Impact of Authentic Leadership in the workplace

A person demonstrating the effective communication skills necessary for authentic leadership

Based on a Harvard study, when a leader lives and leads with an authentic leadership style, results can include:

  1. Better relationships with colleagues – being genuine by acting in accordance with one’s stated values creates a greater understanding of one another
  2. Higher levels of trust – are created when the leader and team members act in alignment with their values
  3. Greater productivity  – allows people to exert less energy and time censoring themselves and more energy on the task at hand.
  4. A more positive working environment – people know what to expect from their leader and of each other, and feel safe in knowing.

As a Leader, How Can You Be More Authentic?

As a leader, there are several ways you can be more authentic:

  1. Clarify your values: To be an authentic leader, you need to know your values. Take the time to reflect on what is important to you and what motivates you. Once you clearly understand your values, you can use them as a guide for your behaviour and to make decisions.An authentic leader engaging in deep thinking and learning to enhance their leadership skills
  2. Be transparent: Authentic leaders are transparent about their thoughts and feelings. Be open and honest with your team about context, decision-making process, successes, and failures. This will help build trust with your team.
  3. Lead by example: Authentic leaders lead by example. You must model that behaviour if you want your team to be transparent and honest. If you want your team to be committed to their work, you must show that you are committed to yours.

How Can You Develop Yourself to Be More Authentic?

Leading from authenticity is all about knowing and understanding your beliefs and values and then living and leading from them. As this article explains, your leadership approach involves being self-aware, honest, and transparent. When leaders are authentic, they create an environment of trust and transparency, which can lead to increased employee engagement, higher levels of job satisfaction, and greater organizational commitment.

One of the keys to leading from authenticity is to share your values with your team and then lead by example. This involves consciously reflecting on the practice of your values, making refinements as necessary, and making decisions aligned with your values and purpose. By doing so, you can inspire others to identify and work from their values and purpose, creating a culture of alignment and well-being.

It’s important to note that being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, but authentic leaders are willing to admit when they’ve made a mistake and seek feedback from their team. This vulnerability can help build trust with your team and show that you are human, just like they are. It also creates a culture of accountability, where everyone is willing to learn from their mistakes and grow as individuals and as a team.

To develop authentic leadership skills, practicing self-awareness, seeking feedback, and embracing vulnerability is important. Self-awareness involves reflecting on your thoughts and behaviours and being honest with yourself about what you need to work on. Seeking feedback from your team can provide valuable insights into your authenticity in practicing your values and help you improve. Finally, embracing vulnerability means showing your team your human side, admitting mistakes and failures, and working with your team to learn from them.

 What Are Some Authentic Leadership Examples?

Some examples of authentic leaders include:

  1. Oprah Winfrey: Oprah is known for being authentic and transparent. She has built a career on being true to herself and sharing her story with others.
  2. Howard Schultz: Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, is known for his authentic leadership style. He has always been passionate about the company’s mission and values and has worked to create a culture that reflects those values.
  3. Bill George: Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic, is a well-known advocate for authentic leadership. As mentioned, he has written several books on the topic and is a frequent speaker on the importance of being true to oneself as a leader.

How can Leadership and Executive coaching help you to become a more authentic leader?

Leadership and executive coaching can be valuable tools in helping you become a more authentic leader. A coach can work with you to identify your values and beliefs and help you develop a clear sense of self-awareness. They can also guide how to lead from your values and support you in reflecting on your actions and adjusting to align with your authentic self.

Coaching can also provide a safe space to explore any barriers preventing you from being authentic in your leadership. This may include fear of vulnerability, imposter syndrome, or a lack of clarity around your values and purpose.

Through coaching, you can develop the skills and mindset needed to lead authentically, build stronger relationships with your team, and positively impact your organization.

If you would like to explore coaching as a self-development tool to enhance your leadership skills, please book a complimentary exploration call with me to discuss options.

Yours in Authenticity


Resources for this article:

  1. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner – “model commitment to your values” – clarify values (find your voice and affirm shared values), and set the example (live the shared values-teach others to model the values)
  2. Harvard Business Review:
  3. Barrett – potentially limiting values – or Maslow’s deficiency needs that get in the way of fully living our being values