“An authentic leader is a true representative of their beliefs and values in thought, in action, and in relationship to others.”
We gravitate to one of the most simple definitions of authentic leadership: An authentic leader is a true representative of their beliefs and values in thought, in action, and in relationship to others.
This definition can apply to an individual as well as to the leadership of an entire organization. It also offers a clear pathway for development.
One half of the development work is the inner work of discering beliefs and values through self-inquiry, self-understanding, and mindful processing. And the second half of the development work is about bringing the inner work out into action through relationships with others and the world around us.
It has been helpful for us to embrace that authenticity shares a root with the word author. In a way, leading authentically means authoring one’s life. To fully embrace it, however, this metaphor needs a bit of unpacking. At first pass, authoring one’s life can seem devoid of the self-inquiry and self-understanding that Authentic Leadership calls us to do — it can sound more like creating and selling an image or a story of one’s self or acting, all of which is actually the exact opposite of what we’re looking for in our leaders. But if we really look at authors who are successfully generating ongoing original work that is trusted and engaged by readers, they are immersed in this cycle of the inner work turning outward and the outer world turning inward.
Authentic leadership relies on an ongoing cycle of the inward reflective work and the outward relational work, the two cannot be separated. As one develops the qualities of authentic leadership, this praxis, or cycle of reflection and action becomes more natural. A robust authentic leadership development program (whether formal or informal) must support leaders in developing the “muscle” needed to engage this cycle as a matter of both ritual and instinct.
Authenticity is not something that is developed over night, on your own, or without failing at it. As human beings, we are all (even the most authentic amongst us) inauthentic sometimes. It is our awareness of those moments and what we do when we realize they are happening that allow us to move closer to being perceived and engaged by others as an authentic leader. The goal is about seeking greater alignment, honesty, and clarity between what is happening within and what is unfolding in relationships, decisions, actions and vice versa. In this sense, the work of authentic leadership is never-ending and we must continue to learn what it calls us to as the demands on our leadership grow more complex. Leading in this way is as simple as meeting ourselves and others where we are in any given moment and is also as radically aspirational as living actively into the ideals of an ever-emerging sense of true self and offering others space to do the same. There is freedom in this orientation to leadership if we are willing to dive into the work with a growth mindset.