Conversations about leading with authenticity at work tend to leave a few important things out.
Some people, for instance, may interpret showing up to work as their “full, authentic selves” as reason not to maintain healthy work-life boundaries — something that can pretty quickly snowball into an emotionally messy, toxic workplace.
Others may interpret an “authentic leadership style” as one that’s overly specific to their own needs and impulses, with little room for others’ perspectives or experiences in it. And in simply telling people to show up “as their authentic selves,” so, too, do we overlook individuals for whom presenting a selective version of themselves at work has long been necessary in order to succeed in a largely white, male and cis-led business world.
Authenticity, in other words, isn’t always that simple.
In a perfect world, though, we all would be empowered to exist at work as our full selves, and to lead with authenticity in mind. To that end, experts shared with us the nine qualities that executives with an authentic leadership style share.
1. People who lead with authenticity are self-aware.
“A quality that all authentic leaders have is that they’re self aware,” Echo Wang, founder of Yoga Kawa, said. “Self-awareness is critical in leadership not only because it is an important part of the EQ that all leaders need, but also because it allows the leader to truly understand their own weaknesses and strengths, the various emotions they may be experiencing while leading, as well as the biases, values, and circumstances that may cause the leader to feel or think in a particular way.”
2. They’re transparent.
“Authentic leaders believe in open communication and combine it with empathy to achieve success,” James Angel, Co-Founder of DYL, said. “They present a comparable public and private image. They are not scared to disclose their weaknesses and flaws and to be themselves.”
3. They’re humble.
“It’s one thing to say failure is an opportunity to inspect, adapt and evolve, but if you’re not fessing up to your missteps, hiccups or errors, no one else will feel they can, either,” Amy Yackowski, CEO of Painted Porch Strategies, said. “Be an example of humility and a growth mindset by admitting what you don’t know and when you make a mistake.”
4. They’re in sync with their gut, but don’t rely on it alone.
“You are in sync with your gut because you know who you are and what you stand for,” Tiffany Payne, Head of Marketing at Replace Your Docs, said. “You listen to your gut instincts and act on them. At the same time, you check your gut instinct by listening to and absorbing input and ideas from others before making significant judgments.”
5. They’re consistent.
“Being real is tough if your rhetoric is inconsistent,” Adam Wood, Co-founder of RevenueGeeks, said. “Don’t contradict yourself with commands and expectations… Inconsistency in communicating with your team is likely to have a detrimental influence on your capacity to develop authenticity. If you are inconsistent in what you say, others may perceive you as a hypocrite.”
6. They’re not afraid of difficult conversations or inconvenient truths.
“Honesty is the foundation of exceptional leadership,” Mark Osborne, Director of Orangeries UK, said. “Great leaders choose to hear or convey a difficult and unpleasant truth rather than providing or receiving a comforting lie.”
7. They engage with others in a way that’s authentic to them.
“Good leaders must be able to engage with others in a way that feels authentic to the people around them,” Jay Soni, Marketing Director at Yorkshire Fabric Shop, said. “Being a leader does not necessitate being an extrovert or a people person; there are many good leaders who self-identify as introverts, for example. It means engaging in active listening and establishing genuine professional relationships with those in your immediate vicinity, whether they are peers or direct reports.”
8. They’re relaxed, because they’re being their true selves.
“I become more relaxed when I’m authentic in front of my workers,” Eddie Bye, Founder of Physio Flex Pro, said. “I don’t have to worry about sending the wrong impression, and I’m not worried about saying the wrong thing. The truth smoothly flows from me, which is a great feeling to have. This is a great advantage because people have told me they can sense how I’m not ‘out there to impress people.’”
9. They say “no” when they need to.
“They value their authenticity more than other people’s approval. They’re also great at setting boundaries and asking for what they need,” Mathias Ahlgren, CEO of Website Rating, said. “Authentic people don’t hide behind a mask or try to be someone they think other people will like — they’re just themselves, even if it means living outside the box. They aren’t easily swayed by peer pressure or trends, and can be counted on to make a thoughtful decision, even if it goes against popular opinion.”
Find more leadership advice on the blog.