The Magic in Authentic Leadership

Posted on April 13, 2017

“Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken” – Oscar Wilde

As we collectively search for deeper meaning, engagement and happiness in our personal and professional lives, authenticity is becoming an increasingly popular subject of inquiry and exploration. What do we mean by authenticity? And why does being authentic make for such impactful leadership?

Authenticity relates to the quality of being genuine, in the words of Greg Giesen, ‘the authentic self may be described as the keeper of our dreams, our passions, our purpose and possibilities – the aspect of ourselves totally comfortable in our own skins- who we are as opposed to who we think we need to be’.

Authenticity also relates to the quality of realness. Mike Robbins describes authenticity as an ‘in the moment phenomenon’– where the realness in us reaches out and responds in honesty to the realness of the moment. It seems to me that authenticity is both an unveiling act and an aligning act.

In terms of being an unveiling act, authenticity may be found in the courageous act of momentarily dropping away or letting go of something that is implicated within the notion of ‘who we think we need to be’. Requiring, as Brené Brown explains, emotional honesty, compassion and perhaps most importantly – the recognition of our humanity – that we as humans are made up of strength and struggle.

Image source: Iswanto Arif,

In terms of being an aligning act, it has been identified that ‘authentic leaders’ lead from within, which means that what people see on the outside is a reflection of what exists on the inside (Greg Giesen).

When we are being authentic, there is a consistency cultivated across the facets of who we are and what we do.

This sense of alignment across the many dimensions of life (be it purpose and practice, values and behaviour, head and heart, inner and outer) that is nurtured when we unveil our realness, is outlined in two Harvard Business Review articles on ‘authentic leadership’ and ‘inspirational leadership’:

Discovering your authentic leadership by Bill George et al. (2007) reports that authentic leaders:

  • Demonstrate a passion for their purpose.
  • Practice their values consistently.
  • Lead with their heads and hearts.
  • Establish long-term meaningful relationships.
  • Have the self-discipline to get the results.
  • Know who you are.
  • Their leadership emerges from their life stories- understanding who they are at the core.

In ‘Why should anybody be led by you?’ by Robert Geoff and Gareth Jones, it is documented that inspirational leaders:

  • Selectively show their weaknesses, exposing vulnerability and revealing approachability and humanity.
  • Rely on intuition to gauge appropriate timing and course of their actions.
  • Manage employees with ‘tough empathy’ – empathising passionately and realistically.
  • Reveal their differences, dare to be different and capitalise on what is unique about them.

Image source: Hope House Press

These studies show that authentic leaders find opportunities to a) bring their wholes-selves forward, attending to the moment from an aligned and integrated place of head, heart and hands, and b) nurture relationships in ways that serve to encourage expressions of those unique aspects of themselves, while simultaneously recognising and respecting their own humanity.

The magic of authenticity may be encountered when we choose to give that which makes us unique, and that which makes us human, the permission to be seen while welcoming others, by example, to reveal their authentic selves – allowing ourselves and others to lean into more meaningful, genuine moments of deeper connectedness to ourselves, to our actions and to one another.

At Redwood and Co we craft creative learning environments that celebrate that which makes each individual unique – encouraging leaders to bring their whole-selves into the learning experience courageously, curiously and joyfully. 

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