Developing authentic leadership – 10 Tips from a fellow traveller


March 25th, 2013

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In my last blog I asked the question ‘What is authenticity in leadership?’ I suggested that, while the word has been overused and misused in leadership circles, there is still something appealing and distinct that people crave for in leadership that might be articulated through the word ‘authentic’.  I suggested that what people might be looking for is someone who is: trustworthy, human, humble, principled and other-centred. In this article/blog I look at how a leader might develop these characteristics.

Here are my top ten tips for developing as an authentic leader:

  1. Embark on a lifelong voyage of self-discovery. Try stuff out and see what works. Treat every mistake and failure as a rich source of learning. It’s all a part of being human and learning what you’re naturally good at and what stirs your passion. Ask yourself deep reflective questions as you journey, never stop learning or being open to feedback, always be curious about your own responses and what lies beneath them as you encounter life’s ups and downs. Always be determined to grow through whatever life throws at you.
  2. Trace your journey as a leader up to now. What key events, decisions and turning points have made you the leader you are today, what passions and values have developed as a result? What golden threads and wisdom from this journey would you do well to hold onto, what baggage must you let go of to be the leader you want to be, and others need you to be, today and tomorrow?
  3. Give up on the tribute band idea. Don’t be a copy, be an original. By all means look to great leaders for inspiration and ideas, but find your own unique expression of leadership, your own unique ‘Voice’. Most of those that history remembers as great leaders can be characterised by their individuality as much, if not more than, their similarities. Each had a unique role to play in a unique context at a unique moment. What’s yours?
  4. Discover your natural ‘signature’ talents, strengths and personality preferences: those strengths and preferences that energise and fulfil you as you play to them. Use inventories and other tools such as the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory and the Realise 2 Strengths Inventory to unearth your natural, authentic self.
  5. Develop a sense of identity that is bigger than your work, one that encompasses the whole of your life, that embraces a diversity of roles. Develop definitions of success for all of your major roles in life. Then, seek the appropriate balance between those roles. You will be a better leader as a result, more objective when you need to be, more able to take a stand when your values and principles are in danger of being compromised, if your work role alone does not define you.
  6. Develop clarity in, and commitment to, your ethical and moral values and principles. Decide before the crunch moments where your lines in the sand will be in those areas where you know you might be tempted to compromise. Think through potential scenarios you might face and consider the possible consequences, both for yourself and for others of following different options. Decide in advance how you will handle them and it will help strengthen your resolve in the moment not to compromise your integrity and do something you would later regret.
  7. Ask yourself the ‘Spice Girls Question’: what do I really, really want? Many people go through many decades of their lives without asking this question. And yet it’s one of the most powerful questions for uncovering the motivations and dreams of the authentic self.
  8. Find a purpose that is other-centred. A fulfilling life often involves discovering and playing to your strengths. But many people find a deeper level of fulfilment when they can use their talents in the service of a cause greater than themselves. What causes stir you? What difference do you want to make? What legacy do you want to leave in the lives of others?
  9. Raise your awareness of what builds and destroys trust in your important relationships, at work and at home. Different things work for different people. Covey1 writes of emotional bank accounts that need to be invested in if trust is to result. Chapman2 writes of ‘The Five Love Languages’: ‘Words of Affirmation’; ‘Acts of Service’; ‘Quality Time’; ‘Gifts’ and ‘Physical Touch’. Which are most meaningful to you and to those you love? Speak their language.
  10. Write your own personal vision or mission statement – drawing onyour answers to the questions above. Make it a statement of your ‘Voice’ in the world; of what and who is important to you; what you value; the kind of person you want to be; the legacy you want to leave and with whom. Write and refine it over a period of weeks or months until you are happy with it. Use your statement as a touchstone and an anchor as you face life’s challenges, crossroads and major decisions.

Questions for Reflection

Q1. How authentic is your leadership? How do you know?

Q2. What has helped you develop a sense of authenticity as a leader?

Q3. Which of the ideas Adrian gives above would be worth trying for yourself?


1Covey, S.R. 1992. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster: London

2Chapman, G. D 1995. The Five Love Languages. Northfield:Chicago

Photo of Adrian Lock, Senior ConsultantAdrian Lock is a Senior Consultant and Programme Director for Strategic Leadership