What Is Authentic Leadership?

Building better leaders across hundreds of companies is naturally a distributed process, creating surprising insights into what organizations believe is effective leadership versus what actually works. Authentic leadership is about more than “being yourself.” It’s about forgetting what a manager should be and working on leading by example, with strong values and honesty as a foundation.

Research from Harvard Business Review discovered that employees believe authenticity in the workplace leads to better relationships and greater productivity. Additionally, how authentic your managers are could be the key determiner in job satisfaction for employees, according to the Leadership and Organization Development Journal.

By its very nature, achieving authenticity can’t be an act. So, how do you foster genuine, authentic leadership at your company?

Authentic Leadership Theory

Authentic Leadership Theory

The authentic leadership theory is split into four components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Transparency and clear communication
  • Open to alternative viewpoints–balanced processing
  • Internalized moral perspective

Embracing the authentic leadership theory means being able to put the needs of the company ahead of your own, whilst balancing that against your own values. Authentic managers embrace the perspectives of others, seeing them as valuable contributions rather than a challenge.

As an authentic leader, you want to ensure your own opinions are not biased or tied to short-term gains—this is part of self-awareness but also your moral perspective. Are the decisions you’re making right now helping your organization move forwards? And can you take constructive criticism from your team at all levels to better assess or even adjust your decisions?

Characteristics of Authentic Leadership

What is authentic leadership but a collection of characteristics that make up a great manager or leader? Fostering the following characteristics will build trust between you and your employees, but also give you a reputation as a focused and results-driven leader.


One of the most important characteristics of authentic leadership is believing in your values and acting accordingly. Your managers’ values should align with your company values—as should yours. If there are conflicts in values, a great manager will address those with the relevant area within the organization, in a positive and constructive way. Ensure your company values are widely and clearly communicated, and encourage your managers to provide feedback or show great examples of how they and their teams are living those values.

Emotional Honesty

As a manager, there’s a temptation to separate yourself emotionally from employees and colleagues, in the fear that emotions make you vulnerable. In fact, employees are more likely to respect a leader that shows their emotions and even lets those feelings drive and motivate them. Use empathy and compassion to direct your management style, and communicate your own feelings to encourage honesty among your teams.

Characteristics of Authentic Leadership

Long-Term Focus

An effective manager has to be mission-focused and driven towards results. An authentic manager feels like they’re in the right role, and plans to be there for some time. This allows them to make decisions based on the long-term success of the business, rather than just reacting to issues as they occur. Authentic leaders encourage their teams to plan with the long-term strategy of the business in mind and take insights from employees and other teams for true collaborative success.

Leading by Example

The saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” has no place in an effective organization. Leadership is, by its very nature, about leading rather than telling or dictating. Employees respond to what they see, in terms of behavior, company culture, and work ethic. A leader who puts the extra hours in when necessary, but who also has a great work-life balance, is more likely to have productive team members who aspire to the same goals. A manager who is approachable and sets clear expectations fosters direct reports who do the same. Leaders who challenge presumptions and ineffective strategies encourage teams who innovate and push for excellence.

Create Authentic Leadership at Your Organization

If you recognize some of these characteristics of authentic leadership in your own managers, you’ve already seen the amazing benefits of authentic leadership at work. If you’d like to find out more about building authentic leaders at your organization, check out our A Better Leader lesson below! In this lesson we cover:

  • A historical perspective on what it means to be an authentic leader
  • The benefits of authentic leadership
  • Telltale traits of authenticity
  • Tips on how to become a more authentic leader
Leadership Development Training Drift Chat
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

follow me on: