What is Authentic Leadership?

31 March 2022

If we are to ‘build back better’ and ‘level up’ our economy, it's widely accepted that leadership and management will be crucial. Underpinning productivity, workforce engagement, change engagement and many more important metrics of operational success, skilled managers and leaders make a huge difference.

Many organisational leaders and managers are a product of their career to date: on taking up their first leadership role, they probably deployed behaviours and an approach that felt familiar or natural, because it was based on their own back catalogue of line and senior managers. If these examples were highly skilled leaders with formal training or qualifications, then great! If, in the more likely scenario, these influential examples were deploying ‘organic’ leadership styles of their own, then it’s easy to see how this problem reinforces itself over and over, and properly effective management skills fail to embed.

So, if an organisational leader decided to buck this trend and start taking an ‘authentic’ approach to their role, what exactly would this look like?

According to Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in their influential 2006 book of the same name, it starts with asking themselves "why should anyone be led by me?" The phrasing of that is deliberate – focusing on the voluntary act of following a leader, because without followers, leaders don’t exist, and truly following someone is a choice.

Rather than just expecting it, or simply pointing at their job title, authentic leaders must make their case for their leadership with four elements:


Teams do need certain amount of inspiration to perform and achieve. This doesn’t have to be cheesy – and definitely shouldn’t be insincere - but some energy and positivity around the team’s (and organisation’s) values and vision are important.


Help individuals feel part of something bigger than themselves. Have an answer to the question – why are we all here? Just as much as individuals choose to follow a leader, teams can do exactly the same. Fostering togetherness makes it all the more likely that the communal decision, when considering their leader, will be to invest some trust.


For people to put the effort in, they want to believe it makes a difference. Personalised feedback for individual contributions goes a long way. Again, this works on both levels: people want to know that their individual efforts are benefiting the team and that their team’s efforts are benefiting the organisation. Authentic leaders are adept at balancing both.


Hardly revelatory that authenticity constitutes a part of authentic leadership! But here, here it is taken to mean capitalising on your uniqueness, rather than trying to display an idealised standard. People choose to be led by humans, not robots, and putting on ‘the show’ of a certain type of leader might work for a while, but is definitely unsustainable in the long term.

Then, these must underpin the four leadership essentials:

Context Sensor

Tuning into the emotions and motivations of others begets an ability to modify your approach. Authentic leaders hone their ability to detect what’s going on, for all, without having it spelled out for them. Depending on the working arrangements of, and personalities within, the team, this can take time but, by putting the effort in, authentic leaders can quickly gauge individual and group moods.

Know (& Show) Yourself

Self-awareness, which can be helped by reflective exercises like questionnaires, personality profiles and 360 feedback assignments, means an ability to control which parts of oneself to share – where there is value in doing so. This doesn’t necessarily mean wearing ones heart on ones sleeve at all times, which can actually be detrimental for a leader, but means an ability to turn that on and off when necessary.

Close but Distant

Leadership and friendship can absolutely co-exist, but the former must supplant the latter when necessary. Authentic leaders know when to empathise, and when to deliver a reality check. Individuals need rapid decision making and clear, deliberate instructions in a crisis and, importantly, need to be able to take these from a friend. When they make a mistake or are sharing concerns, however, that bit of sympathy can be very effective.

Communicate with Care

The message, the coding, the channel, the audience, the desired outcome… all of these need to be understood and considered for effective communication. Communication skills are placed even more in the spotlight in a remote or hybrid office.

So... lots to be getting on with! But, no time like the present...

If the above resonates with your requirements and your organisation would benefit from being equipped with some 'authentic leaders', or at least some managers with an increased awareness of what that looks like, Eliesha offers an engaging, 3 hour ‘Masterclass’ workshop to get them started.

To receive a course outline and further details about virtual or face-to-face delivery, fill out an enquiry form here or email us.

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