How leaders can embrace authenticity (and why it matters)

When you think of a leader, what do you picture? It might be a man in a suit sitting in a corner office, a Steve Jobs type in a black turtleneck, or a woman on stage rallying her employees.

And while all these pictures may be correct, they have one thing in common: They aren’t you. There isn’t one right way to be a great leader. More than anything, today’s leaders need to embrace their unique traits and skills to be authentic with their employees and customers.

Surveys show that 90% of people think authenticity in the workplace is essential. Employees want to be able to show up to work as their whole selves, and they want their leaders to respect and model that. Instead of trying to fit into a mold of what they think a leader is, employees want leaders to be themselves and be honest, vulnerable, and accurate. Today’s leaders are often under a microscope, and people can sense inauthenticity. According to best-selling author Liz Wiseman, authenticity is complex to maintain but even more challenging to fake.

Wiseman had a front-row seat when Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple after Steve Jobs. She worked with Apple as a coach and consultant. There was pressure for Tim to step directly into Steve’s shoes and lead just the way he did. But that style didn’t reflect Tim and wouldn’t have served the company well.

“Look what Tim has continued to build and create, just being himself,” Liz said. “Fake it till you make it isn't about being inauthentic. It's knowing what you're trying to become. You're just squaring your shoulders as you grow into something authentically desired and authentically possible. That's very different from pretending to be something you're not.”

When leaders embrace authenticity, they invite employees to do the same. Instead of trying to be a perfect version of themselves, leaders and teams can take risks, admit mistakes, and continue learning and evolving. Authenticity builds trust, and authentic leadership positively impacts employee performance. There’s no reason for leaders not to be themselves.

How can leaders become more authentic? It starts with a clear idea of who you are as a person and leader. What motivates you to succeed? What do you value? How do you want to make a positive impact? Where are your growth opportunities? Being yourself means knowing yourself.

Authentic leaders are also strong communicators. They share transparent updates with employees and customers and are honest about goals and progress. They don’t shy away from admitting mistakes or changes that could be made. However, they also realize that communication isn’t one-sided, so they open themselves to listening and connecting with people. Authentic leaders step away from their office to spend time with customers and employees on the front lines. They aren’t afraid to let their walls down to build strong relationships.

Authentic leaders live what they believe. They are dependable, hold strong to their personal values, back their words with actions, and make decisions based on what they know is right.

Embracing authenticity is a journey, not something that can happen overnight. However, as leaders understand who they are and the unique characteristics and talents that make them special, they can share their true selves with others and encourage them to do the same.

Written by

Michelle Kaiser
Michelle Kaiser

Senior Editor |

Daily Newsletter

For Leaders

Subscribe to the newsletter read by the world's most influential CEOs.