What Authentic Leadership Looks Like

Authentic Leadership is a hard thing to define. I’ve heard many definitions of it and given more than one myself. But here’s a “definition” I believe works every time: 

Authentic Leadership is like love; it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Which leads us to this post… What Authentic Leadership Looks Like. 

If you are the observant type you’ll see most if not all authentic leaders consistently doing the following things. These are not “natural,” but authentic leaders are intentional about them and they invest the time to do them every chance they get. They get so good at them that others may believe they are natural but an authentic leader never takes these skills for granted.

Authentic leaders are touchy feely. This is personally my biggest hurdle and I use “political correctness” as my excuse for not doing more of this. Authentic leaders reach out and touch people, yes, physically touch people. A pat on the back or a hand on the shoulder “connects” a leader with their people, people normally respond well to simple physical touch.

If you’re like me and too concerned by policies and regulations then just keep your touch to a basic handshake. If you’re leading people and you haven’t found a reason to shake their hand in the last 6 months then find one today. It will show them that you remember they are human and that they still matter. 

Authentic leaders are name droppers. They remember and use their people’s names. People love to hear their name, Dale Carnegie says that a person’s name is to them “the sweetest sound in any language.”  

Before you begin to use the “I’m horrible at remembering names” excuse let me tell you about a gentleman I worked with years ago at Dale Carnegie. I can’t recall his name (okay, that was humor) His name was George and if he met you today he would still remember your name a year from now. If he met you in a group of 99 other people he would remember all their names too. 

I thought that was pretty incredible so I asked him how he did it. His answer was embarrassingly simple; he said it was important to him so he worked at it. I could write a whole blog post on how to remember names but that’s for another day, today I would just suggest doing a little research on name remembering, there are many good techniques to help you in this area, if it’s important to you, and it should be important. 

Authentic leaders Lead Today. Okay, so some people say “lead in the present” or “lead in the moment” but for obvious reasons I prefer Lead Today. Whatever you call it, here’s what it means: Don’t make time to lead only when it’s convenient. Lead when leadership is required, lead when your people need leadership. Don’t hide from a confrontation, don’t try to ignore problems and don’t undervalue your people by leaving them hanging. 

Remember, you lead people and nothing else. Authentic leaders never forget that they lead people and manage stuff. Policies and programs are managed, people are led. People are led by people, not rules and regulations. If every page of your employee handbook has a footnote that says “failure to comply with any of these policies could result in termination” that may well be a sign that you’ve surrendered your leadership to an employee manual. That’s not authentic leadership.

That’s just a small sampling of what Authentic Leadership looks like. Here’s a question for you: If your team members are asked how often they “see” your authentic leadership in action what would they say?

Focus on the actions listed above and their perception of your leadership will be one of authenticity…. and it just so happens that their perception will be reality. 

17 thoughts on “What Authentic Leadership Looks Like

  1. Authentic leaders aren’t perfect. They care, and that’s what sets them apart. An authentic leader doesn’t treat you like a ‘number’, or a cog in the wheel. You are treated like a human being. Thanks for sharing Steve.

  2. Oluremi says:

    A good write-up. Thanks Steve. I will deliberately make efforts to work on the points raised. Actually the name remembering, having read about it some years back in Dale Carnegie’s famous book, has been working for me. Your mentioning it here will reinforce my usage of it.

    • How to Win Friends and Influence People has help many people. It is truly a life changing book. I encourage people to read it once a year. I learn something every time I read it.

  3. People would say I lead authentically on a consistent basis. I eat my own dog food: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. These are the five practices of exemplary leaders based on The Leadership Challenge model courtesy of Kouzes and Posner.

  4. Matt Reedy says:

    Great article. Leadership is truly about caring. If your people know you care, they will follow you anywhere. Whether it is coaching AAU basketball, directing employees in the public sector, or when teaching Sunday School, it is important that I connect so that I may direct. Thanks!

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