5 Authentic Leadership Characteristics & How You Can Develop Them In Yourself

by | Last updated Nov 26, 2023 | Executive Women

What Is Authentic Leadership?

Bill George’s book, titled Authentic Leadership”, popularized the term “authentic leadership” when it was published in 2003. Since then, the characteristics of authentic leaders have become more well-defined – and more coveted. 


People who lead with authenticity are said to be genuine, moral, and character-based people of the highest integrity. These are people who have a deep sense of purpose and a strong moral compass based on an awareness of their own unique core values. They honor their lived experience and seek to share what they have learned with those they lead.

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What Are 5 Authentic Leadership Characteristics?


1. Commitment to Self-Awareness

Authentic leaders are curious about who they are (and why they are that way), what they believe in (and why they believe in it), and what they perceive to be right vs. wrong (and why). They intuitively recognize that the more they know themselves and their values, the more they can understand and empathize with others. They realize that personal development is an endless journey that requires a growth, not fixed, mindset. 


Their keen self-awareness makes them astute at self-monitoring. They can appropriately calibrate their response to a variety of situations while maintaining a consistent, balanced sense of self that is anchored in their values. 

2. Courage

Authentic leaders have the courage to take ownership of their mistakes. They know how to apologize and do so without hesitation when appropriate. They are confident enough in themselves and their self-worth that their ego can withstand them admitting to wrongdoing. 


Similarly, they have the courage to take on new challenges. They are not afraid of asking for help, or failing along the way to personal and professional growth. They understand that their failures help them learn about themselves, be relatable to others, and grow. 


Authentic leaders have the courage to lead with their heart. They understand that showing empathy towards someone else’s circumstances is a kindness, and that kindness is a sign of strength, not a weakness. 


Lastly, when circumstances challenge their morals or values, they have the courage to speak up – even if the person or institution that they are confronting has power over them.

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3. Integrity

Authentic leaders’ actions are consistently in alignment with their words, which engenders trust and affirms that they are who they say they are. 


They don’t hide their true selves; rather, they allow themselves to be vulnerable by revealing their true selves to others, warts and all. In doing so, they earn credibility. Being authentic demonstrates their very humanity in a very humble and relatable way that gains the trust of those around them.


Because they allow themselves to be known, their responses and reactions to situations become predictable in the best sense of the word. Their consistent words and actions builds a foundation of trust and predictability in their behaviors. People know what to expect from them, which helps people relax, be creative, be innovative, and take risks that further the cause or mission. 


“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, feeling, saying, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” – Lance Secretan 


Man and woman working together

4. Consistent Communicators

They understand that just as authentic leaders seek to know themselves, others seek to be understood. Their high self-awareness enables them to be ready, open-minded listeners who are curious about other people and sensitive to their needs. 


Authentic leaders’ integrity will not allow them to hide things or try to live a double life. They are true to themselves no matter the situation or circumstance that they find themselves in; accordingly, straightforward, transparent communication comes easily and naturally.



5. Empower and Develop Others

Authentic leaders understand that the highest compliment to them as leaders is when their followers become leaders themselves. They are naturally selfless. They understand the compounding effect that a team of leaders, not just followers, can have on one’s ability to get stuff done.


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How To Develop Your Own Authentic Leadership


Start By Knowing Yourself

Consider questions such as “What were you created to do?”  Self-awareness is the cornerstone from which authentic leadership is built. When you know what you are passionate about, you learn clues about that which you value.


If you had a magic wand and could create a life that lights you up, what would be a part of it? 


Or, try this: think about a peak experience you’ve had. A vacation perhaps, or a particularly memorable evening out, an afternoon with a loved one, or something that made you say, “Wow! This is it! This is really what life is all about.” What about that experience is most meaningful to you and why? Journal about it and notice what emerges. 


It is also powerful to bear witness to the causes or situations that bring about feelings of sadness or anger. What about these issues moves your spirit? Why is this particular issue emotionally impactful to you? 


The answers to these questions inform who you are and what you stand for. When these values are at risk of being violated, you will be quicker to take action when you can understand the strength of your reaction. Your values form the basis of the courage you will need to take action in support of yourself and your team.



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