Authentic Leadership

by Phil Eastman

(Editor’s Note: From time to time, we want to feature blog articles from other authors that highlight a particular issue related to leadership and personal development.)

I was once told that the secret to any book’s success is its title. Unfortunately a book title does not always properly portray what is inside. The title can be clever and catchy while the text inside is dull and disappointing. To illustrate, several years ago Mahan Khalsa wrote a solid book on solution selling with one of the best titles I have ever heard, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play. What a great title with great potential for sales. That title is also a great opening line for a discussion of authentic leadership.

The pursuit of leadership authenticity is like a book with a provocative title. Too many leaders have been ingrained with the myths that results are all that matter. In fact, results do matter, but what matters more is the means by which a leader achieves those results. Interestingly results are better when leaders are authentic in their approach. The challenge is to make sure your road to authenticity winds through your character.

“The challenge is to make sure your road to authenticity winds through your character.”

There are three major barriers to leadership authenticity –

1. First, we live in an image saturated world with few opportunities to see, recognize and celebrate authentic leadership. Successful leadership portrayed in most media outlets are usually centered on the deal and winning above being true to oneself and others. The television show, The Apprentice, is a great example. On the show, teams work together toward a common goal while competing against another group doing the same. When the losing team finds itself in the boardroom making a desperate plea for remaining on the show, the people seem willing to resort to any behavior to keep from being fired. Very few have taken responsibility for their own actions and often times those who do are the ones who get fired. We don’t have a productive manner or model for a discussion of character.

2. Therein lies the second challenge. When character discussions arise, they are almost always directed negatively rather than focused on the positive. In other words, character is more visible when things are fractured rather than intact. We need a model for the positive proactive discussion of character and its connection to leadership.

3. The third and possibly most challenging element in the pursuit of leadership authenticity is solid and realistic self-awareness. Introspection about your character and leadership style is very difficult and yet is the master key to your development.

“All that said, self-awareness is the key to authentic leadership, and authentic leadership is critical to your organization’s success.”

All that said, self-awareness is the key to authentic leadership, and authentic leadership is critical to your organization’s success. But what is authentic leadership, and what does it look like?  An authentic leader is one that courageously and wisely moves a group of people, by doing what is right, to an end that is in the long-term best interest of everyone.

Character then becomes the pivotal aspect of authentic leadership. In other words, a leader’s character defines and drives their actions, and as such, if you want certain leadership behaviors, we must tackle the shaping of your character. That must however be done consciously rather than by letting your character be formed by the unconscious flow of media driven images.

To develop authentic leadership, one must –

1. Find and use a character model that appeals to you.
2. Determine what behaviors you will adopt and build into your leadership based on that character model.
3. Practice your new leadership behaviors in the work you currently do.
4. Share with your team what you are working toward (they will appreciate the authenticity).

Think of authentic leadership as matching the book’s content with its title. The compelling, clever, descriptive exterior representation must match the text inside so that neither the title nor the text disappoint. Remember, let’s get real or let’s not play.


Phil Eastman is the Principle Advisor at Leadership Advisors Group. Specializing in strategic planning, leadership development, and leading change.

Related Articles:

How to Avoid Two Dangerous Traps in Leadership—Listen and Engage

Why is Job Competence Given a Higher Priority than Foundational, Moral Character and Integrity?


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