How to Practice Authentic Leadership

How to Practice Authentic Leadership

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Authentic leadership is a management style in which leaders are genuine, self-aware, and transparent. Research shows that this leadership style results in higher employee job satisfaction and workplace happiness and lower turnover rates. How do you become an authentic leader? Why is this leadership style important? We’ll talk about ways you can increase your self-awareness and boost your emotional intelligence quotient, both key components in becoming an authentic leader.

What is authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership isn’t a new concept. This leadership style has been around since the 1960s but is recently garnering more attention and interest. There are several definitions of this management style, but one of the most cited is as follows:

“Authentic leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on transparent and ethical leader behavior and encourages open sharing of information needed to make decisions while accepting followers’ inputs.”

Put slightly differently, authentic leadership is about being yourself while also being open to the needs of your co-workers, suppliers and customers while behaving in an ethical manner. Authentic leadership is the opposite of the classic autocratic, bulldozer-type leadership style of our grandparents’ generation.

Authentic Leadership Theory

Authenticity is the key element in this style of management. Contrary to a ‘need to know’ style of leadership, authentic leadership stresses being open about all aspects of the business and not lying or creating false impressions to employees.

Authentic leadership keeps employees focused on their jobs and not focusing on ferreting out inconsistencies and falsehoods in their manager’s words and actions. When an employee feels their boss isn’t being honest with them, their mind will work overtime to try to ascertain the truth. This can zap a worker’s energy and productivity as they deal with the cascade of negative emotions, such as anxiety of being fired or demoted, fear of the company closing, or simply angst at being lied to.

Authentic Leadership Traits

While every leader is unique, several personality traits are present in most authentic leaders. These include:


Self-awareness is a key trait in an authentic leader. These people are well aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Rather than bluff their way through situations unfamiliar to them, an authentic leader will bring in someone to handle the tasks they are unfamiliar with. After all, no one can excel at everything. A wise leader knows when to delegate and when to ‘run with the ball.’

Superlative Listening Skills

Another important trait of an effective leader is good listening skills. Not only does a leader who listens garner trust from their employees, but this type of leader also creates an environment where employees are more willing to share their ideas and feedback, information that can be used to make the team stronger and more efficient.

Emotional Control

Everyone has emotions. However, an authentic leader keeps their emotions in check and channels that energy into good decision-making and team building. These leaders don’t let their emotions cloud their judgment or turn employees away with their angry outbursts.

Driven by Relationships

Most company goals have to do with finances, such as increasing profit by a certain amount or selling a certain number of products. However, an authentic leader knows that relationships matter as much as results. They understand that when there is an atmosphere of trust and respect, results are a lot easier to achieve. Plus, an authentic leader knows it’s just the right thing to do to treat people well, whether they are employees, bosses, suppliers, or customers.


An authentic leader or CEO takes responsibility for their mistakes and doesn’t pass the blame down to their team. This type of leader practices ‘the buck stops here’ type of management, whether or not they were directly responsible for the error, mishap, or disappointing results.


Another key trait of an authentic leader is empathy. This allows them to relate to their team and understand that employees aren’t machines. Workers sometimes make mistakes, are distracted by non-work issues, and have to take time off for personal reasons, even when it’s not convenient to the business. When something goes wrong, an authentic leader doesn’t yell at the person responsible. Instead, they seek to understand the entire situation before deciding how to approach the issue.


An authentic leader doesn’t brag about their achievements, and they certainly don’t claim a subordinate’s ideas as their own. This type of leader makes sure to check their ego at the door and works for the good of the entire organization or team, not just for their own sake.

A Set of Long-Term Goals

Another trait of an authentic leader is that they have a set of long-term goals for their organization and team. By necessity, these must include company goals, such as profit and sales goals, but also include things outside the organizational framework, such as growth opportunities for their team. Authentic leaders make sure to share these goals with their team members and get actively involved in coaching them.

An Inherent Code of Ethics

An authentic leader doesn’t have to be told what is permissible or ethical. They have a strong, built-in sense of right and wrong. Such a leader isn’t driven by what they can get away with, but rather what is the right thing to do.

How to Practice Authentic Leadership

So, how do you go about becoming a more authentic leader and practicing this leadership style? Below are a few ideas to consider:

Be More Self-Aware

The core of authentic leadership is self-awareness. You can learn to be more self-aware by exploring your core values, even to the point of writing down the six or eight values most important to you and then prioritize them. Another way to do this is to find a list of values online, print the list, and circle the six or eight items that stand out for you; then, rank them in order of importance to you.

Another effective way to increase your self-awareness is to write down your thoughts and reactions to experiences in a journal and review your entries over time. Take out your journal occasionally and analyze the themes and patterns that emerge. Note when you are repeating behaviors, especially when these are reactions you’re not especially proud of.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Your emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is how well you manage your emotions and identify and relate to emotions in others. You can develop your empathy and EQ by networking, focusing on positive thoughts, and cultivating your empathy by doing things like reading novels, watching movies, and viewing art.

Get Feedback from Others

Ask for feedback from close friends and family members about how they perceive you. You may hear feedback that’s brutally honest; be prepared for negative feedback before you begin. Once you receive this feedback, make a note of it in your journal and ponder how you can improve the way you are perceived by others.

Become a Better Listener

Good listening skills, as we noted above, are essential to authentic leadership practices. Train yourself to keep your mouth closed more than you open it during a discussion. Practice active listening, rather than using the time the other person is speaking to plan what you’re going to say next. How many times have you half-listened to a story someone is telling you only to ‘top it’ by interjecting your own story? Stop that. Developing good listening skills can be much more difficult than you may think, but once mastered, these skills will reward you in all aspects of your life.

Never Stop Learning

For most authentic leaders, education doesn’t end when they earn their bachelor’s degree. Continuing their education—whether that means earning a master’s degree, a doctorate, or a certificate in a relevant field—not only helps a leader learn new skills that will help them be a more effective boss, but also helps to give the leader more self-confidence in their leadership ability.

Build a Supportive Network

Networking is another key component to becoming more self-aware. The more people you talk with, the more practice you’ll get in empathizing with people, and the stronger relationships you’ll build. Look for company events, local meet-and-greets, or events with your college alumni group. These contacts can also often help you in your business life, by giving you leads to new customers and new suppliers and sharing leads on new career opportunities.

Connect With Your Team

A self-aware leader knows their team, what’s important to them, and how to motivate them. They have spent time getting to know their team and listening to their stories and their feedback. Because of this, a self-aware leader knows which team members are motivated by recognition, which are motivated by financial rewards, and which are motivated by a sense of accomplishment. Good leaders aren’t afraid to share their personal stories with their team and allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of their employees. Sometimes, a ‘don’t do what I did’ story can be very motivating.

Practice Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is not a one-time or one-day practice. It’s an exercise that the best leaders practice continually. In addition to journaling, this might include walking alone in nature, meditating or praying every day, reading self-help or inspirational books, and thinking about what you are grateful for. Self-reflection for you might even mean talking to yourself out loud (preferably when you are alone, or you might make people nervous).

Self-reflection can help you not only be a better leader, but also improve your relationships at work and in your personal life, develop a greater sense of self, and make better decisions.


Johnson & Wales University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs in more than 50 fields of study. Founded in 1914, Johnson & Wales has a current enrollment of around 8,000 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. If you are interested in developing your leadership skills for your organization, our online MBA in Organizational Leadership may be right for you. If you are more interested in developing your leadership skills in the sports industry, then we also offer an online MBA in Sports Leadership. The university is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. Financial aid is available for qualified students.

For more information about completing your degree online or on-campus, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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