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Authentic Leadership: Fact or Fiction?

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Yvonne Lewandowksi
Written on the 1 March 2023

A lot has been said about various leadership styles – transformational, situational, charismatic, servant and authentic – and the various pros and cons of each.  Some leadership experts believe that universal leadership is applicable in all situations, while others suggest that leadership behaviours, regardless of style is the best approach.

So how does authentic leadership compare? And is it even a reality?

It’s amazing how many leaders have two versions of themselves – a work version and a home version. At work, we often believe that we need to behave or lead in a certain way, whether it’s to achieve outcomes or fit in with our peers and colleagues and sometimes we end up changing ourselves and the way we act.

The problem is that by changing who we are, and by ‘acting in a role’ our people don’t believe they are getting the real version of who we are. People end up not trusting leaders who they don’t believe are being honest which has a range of organisational implications.

So, what happens if we are authentic in our leadership approach?

Authentic leadership is considered as being deeply aware of how you think, behave, and are perceived by others, being aware of your own an other’s values and moral perspectives, knowledge, and strengths, being aware of the situation, being pragmatic, confident, and resilient.

Authentic leadership is knowing who you are as a person, accepting who you are and remaining true to yourself, but authentic leadership is rarely an either/or state as we are rarely fully authentic or inauthentic.

There are four key behaviours of authentic leadership that can have a positive impact on those we lead and interact with.  These are self-awareness, vulnerability, integrity, and balance, where we seek various alternate options.  Forbes suggests that these behaviours support building productive and constructive relationships not only with your team, but with your peers and more importantly provide a foundation for collaborative partnerships across organisations and industries.

  1. Self-Awareness – leaders who are self-aware know their strengths, limitations and how to manage their emotions. They don’t act one way in private and another way in public, they don’t hide their mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of failure or being perceived as incompetent. They also realise that their personal and professional growth is a journey over the course of their lifetime.
  2. Focused on mission and results: authentic leaders can put aside their own self interests to achieve organisational goals. Their focus is on results and outcomes, not building up their power or ego. Silo mentality doesn’t exist for authentic leaders, and they are able to work cross functionally to achieve results.
  3. Leading with heart: being able to lead with both head and heart, authentic leaders are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerabilities and are able to effectively connect with their team. This is far from being ‘soft’ and being able to be direct is critical to successful outcomes but doing it without empathy is harsh.
  4. Balance short term objectives with long term outcomes: authentic leaders know that to create an environment in which their people can thrive takes time.  Creating an effective balance between short term wines and long-term gains takes hard work and patience, but it pays off in time.

Authentic leadership can result in a range of positive individual and organisational outcomes, including increased trust, job satisfaction, improved interpersonal relationships, engagement, motivation, wellbeing, and productivity.

Ideally, authentic leaders should not be compromised by the organisational context in which they are operating, but realistically understand how their authenticity can be demonstrated in a way that is appropriate for a particular situation and is perceived as being genuine.

For more information on how our People Experience team can support your organisation’s leadership development and transformation, book in for a chat or contact us here.

Picture of Yvonne Lewandowksi

Yvonne Lewandowksi

Yvonne Lewandowksi leads the People Experience Advisory practice at Meritos and has more than 20 years extensive experience in human resources. If you're interested in connecting with Yvonne, you can find her on LinkedIn here. You can also reach her via email at [email protected]
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Questions to ask to help you understand a candidate:

1. Describe your ideal working environment.

2. What do you enjoy about your current workplace?

3. How does a manager get the best out of you?

4. Describe the best team that you’ve ever worked in.

The reasons why I ask these questions:

1. Reason

2. Reason

3. Reason

4. Reason

Insights by Yvonne Lewandowksi


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