Top 5 traits of authentic leaders

Studies have shown us time and time again that teams perform better, and are more motivated, under authentic, ethical and transparent leadership. People thrive under leaders who are willing to follow through, say what they mean and acknowledge mistakes when they are made. But many leaders are finding it difficult to deliver. So why is it so hard to be yourself?

For starters, we want to be liked. We want to belong. We want to be bulletproof. We want to be seen to be doing the ‘right’ things. As a result, we can often hide in ‘busyness’ while we pretend to be someone who we think we’re supposed to be, rather than embracing who we really are.

Shame, unworthiness and fear get in the way. At the core of the authenticity challenge is how we grapple with our fear of not being worthy or good enough. That is, how can we be authentic when we fear being found out as not good enough? As a fraud?

Many highly successful people have low self-esteem. I spent my entire corporate career comparing myself to others, trying to hide my flaws and trying to measure up to the person I thought others expected me to be. It was stressful and exhausting. I didn’t have the self-awareness then to know how to change the relationship I had with myself.

The relationship you have with yourself drives everything. Look at how you see yourself through this frame:

  • Self-ideal – how do you see yourself in the future (the ideal person you want to become)?
  • Self-image – how do you see yourself now?
  • Self-esteem – this is the relationship that connects your self-ideal to your self-image. What is your self-esteem like? How do you feel about being you on an average day?

Your answers to these questions will determine how easy it will be for you to show up authentically.

Here are five behaviours of authentic leaders - employ these today to start showing up as yourself and take your leadership to the next level.

  1. Stop wanting to please other people.

Care more about showing the sides of who you are, and being congruent with your values, rather than pleasing others. Focus on how you can be true to you – it’s a lot more meaningful, I promise.

  1. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

Have the courage to give up the need to look good, to know everything and to be right. Ask others for their ideas, and be prepared to explore answers and new approaches. And know it’s okay to give others the credit where it’s due. 

  1. Decide that you are enough.

Show up as you are. Understand your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses and be yourself. Like those you’re leading, you have progress to make too. This is the secret to you being you.

  1. Speak up.

Being authentic means being true to your principles and acting with integrity. Use your voice: give your opinion; give/receive feedback; and make the decision. Focus on being effective rather than being liked. 

  1. Do what you enjoy.

Connect in to what is really important to you and what you love doing. When you show up in line with what you value and care about, it’ll be far easier to be you and others will ‘get’ you too.

Bringing it all together

You can’t ‘learn’ or ‘get’ authenticity – you need to tap into ‘you’. Being authentic feels good – you know when you are being authentic, and when you’re not. There is a bigger, bolder, and braver – and more real version of you - waiting to surface. You can only experience true fulfilment at work when you’re prepared to bring your whole self to work.