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Be Yourself: The Importance of Authenticity in Leadership

Updated: Jan 27

As a leader of a company or group of people, it is a prerequisite that you are consistently authentic. Unfortunately, authenticity is not something you can pretend to be. It's a state of being. You can learn it. For example, through coaching. What is authenticity and why is it important to be authentic as a leader?


When is someone authentic?

Authenticity is the ability to be congruent with your own values, ideas, beliefs, needs, and character despite the influence of external factors. It actually means that you can be completely yourself no matter what other people say, do, or believe.


Note that this does not mean that authentic people say or do anything without taking others into account. The ability they have is to remain true to themselves without knowingly or unconsciously insulting or shocking people.


Why is authenticity important for good leadership?

It is important for leaders to be consistent and credible. Leaders give direction, and if that direction changes all the time, they are difficult to follow.


Consistency and authenticity in leaders

Authentic people are not easily tempted to adjust their opinions or beliefs. It does not mean that they are not open to new ideas and input. They immerse themselves in a subject, form an opinion, and hold on to it as long as the opposite is not proven. Regardless of what others think and think.


Many governments have fallen thanks to authentic leaders. They disagreed with the policy and - often against the will of large crowds - took up the fight against injustice. José Mujica is such a person and he can show us very important life lessons. He fought against the dictatorship in the eighties in Uruguay. Even though many people adored the dictator and gave him 12 years in prison, he stuck to his opinion. In 2010 he became the new president of Uruguay because of his firmness and consistency in what he believes in.


Credibility and authenticity among leaders

Leaders must be credible to be followed. If a leader is not trusted, his advice and questions will not be followed or will not be followed properly. If Fidel Castro had said that he thought communism might be a good idea, he could never have transformed an entire country. If he had said firmly that communism is a good idea, but one would see the doubt in his eyes and attitude, he probably wouldn't have succeeded either.


The same José Mujica, who was imprisoned for 12 years, has become known as the poorest president in the world. He is often interviewed and likes to talk about how modestly he lives with his wife. Everything he says about living modestly comes from every single fiber of his body. More authenticity is scarce in the world.


Can you act authentically?

Outstanding actors can come across as very authentic. But especially when it comes to movies of people who really existed, you can see the difference. Actor Ben Kingsley played Gandhi in the film of the same name. He played the role brilliantly, but if you put the film footage of the real Gandhi next to it, you can see just that little difference that made Gandhi genuinely authentic.


Another example is the actor Rami Malek who was widely praised for his role as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen. His voice and performance in the film are almost the same as the real Freddie, yet you can see in the video below that he is not authentic.

Freddie's movements are more spontaneous and come straight from the heart. Freddie's gaze is more captivating. You can see that he means what he sings and enjoys the audience. See the differences below.



The difference between authentic and charismatic leadership

The difference between authenticity and charisma in leaders is that authenticity says something about yourself, and charisma says something about the influence on others.

Although the two concepts are not necessarily connected, they do influence each other. A charismatic leader knows how to set other people in motion or convince them of his own ideas through charm or persuasion. Authentic people and leaders do not necessarily have to be masters of this trait.


Charismatic leaders can radiate authority of their own without it being given by anyone. It is charismatic people are the first to take the lead when a situation demands it. For example, in case of a necessary evacuation. Authenticity plays almost no role in this, but it does ensure that the charismatic leader fully trusts his own opinion and expresses it no matter what people think.


Can you learn authentic leadership?

Learning authentic leadership involves developing a leadership style that is genuine and true to one's own personality and core values. It implies that a leader is consistent in their words and actions, and leads with integrity and transparency.


  1. Discovery through Coaching: As you mentioned, coaching plays a vital role in learning authentic leadership. A coach can facilitate self-discovery, helping individuals to identify their core values, beliefs, and insights. This involves reflective questioning and discussions that lead to a deeper understanding of oneself. By doing so, the coach helps in increasing self-awareness, which is fundamental to authentic leadership.

  2. Alignment of Values and Actions: The first step towards authenticity is recognizing and aligning your actions with your values. When you are aware of what is important to you, you can make decisions and take actions that are consistent with these values. This alignment is crucial in building trust and credibility as a leader.

  3. Expressing Yourself with Courage: The second step involves the courage to express yourself openly and honestly, even when it is uncomfortable or when faced with opposition. Authentic leaders are not afraid to share their thoughts and opinions. However, it is important to do this in a respectful and considerate manner to avoid offending or frustrating others.

  4. Overcoming Fear: Fear can be a significant barrier to authenticity. This can be the fear of judgment, rejection, or failure. Authentic leaders work on overcoming these fears. They understand that being genuine may sometimes lead to criticism, but they are willing to accept this as part of being true to themselves.

  5. Continuous Growth and Development: Authentic leadership is not a destination but a journey. It involves continuous self-reflection and personal development. An authentic leader is always open to feedback and is willing to adapt and grow.

  6. Building Authentic Relationships: Authentic leaders also focus on building authentic relationships with their teams and stakeholders. They show empathy, actively listen, and are genuinely interested in the well-being and development of others.

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