Have you ever heard statements around being an authentic leader that have made you think twice? Or don’t feel right? These can often be myths of authentic leadership. The things that you think are right, but maybe don’t feel that great! 

You know, “Fake it until you make it”. Or “try to fit in, try being one of them”. Laugh at jokes, be easy and laid back, hide your insecurities, your ambitions. Often this can feel like wearing a mask. The problem with this mask is, it is exhausting to keep going. 

Also, people can see through it. You can lack the trust of others when you are simply not showing your true colours. 

Authenticity is closely tied to transparency and honesty, but authentic leadership doesn’t mean you need to let it all hang out or overshare. Before we explore the attributes and characteristics that make authentic leaders, let’s take a look at what authentic leadership is not.

Let’s break down the 4 myths that come up a lot with authentic leadership. 

Myth 1: Authentic leaders have to stay in one leadership style

Number one is perhaps one of the most inaccurate stereotypes about authenticity. All of us have different “selves” that we deploy to fit the situation at hand, and corporate settings are no exception to this rule. The most effective authentic leaders are the ones who can step outside their comfort zones and stretch to the limits of who they are. Instead of asking yourself who you are, ask yourself how you can adapt your existing personality to best suit your ever-evolving leadership goals.

You might have been told to adjust your behaviour to meet social expectations, and adhere to the dominant etiquette. 

Being authentic requires a leader to deliver the most appropriate solution while also maintaining a genuine approach. Moreover, sometimes being tactful is necessary to ensure appropriate execution.

To be an authentic leader, you must be completely consistent. Authentic leaders should never bend on their core morals or values, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t flexibility when it comes to adapting behavior in response to changing times and circumstances. Part of being both an effective and an authentic leader is trusting your gut, and if you force rigid rules upon yourself, you’ll strip away your ability to act on what you feel is right in the moment, as well your ability to make adjustments based on past learnings.

Being authentic doesn’t mean your personality or leadership style stays static. It means that you adapt your style to your environment while also remaining true to yourself. 

Different people that we talk to in different situations, different environments, different things that happen in our business. And they do require you to adapt your style and your approach to the most appropriate behavior in that situation, whilst you remain true to yourself, true to your values and true to who you are and what you stand for as a leader, you can still change your approach.

Sometimes you will have to step into a more authority driven leadership style. You have to take command. If things are tough, you will have to make the decisions for your team members. Because if everything is in chaos, they need you to be able to be there to be that they need you to be the stable component and to make the calls and make the tough decisions.

Sometimes you want to be a more coaching leader and you want to help your team members to step into the solutions themselves to have the breakthroughs in their mindset.

So you have to adapt and be a little bit flexible while staying true to yourself.

Myth 2: Authentic leaders have to be bluntly honest at all times

The second myth is that authentic leaders have to be bluntly honest at all times. And you know, authentic leadership is not an excuse to be rude and to put harm on others. It’s simply not. It does not mean you always have to be bluntly honest. There are different ways to go about it. There are different circumstances.

Authenticity is not an excuse to be unfiltered, being rude, or saying something that can hurt or harm others. If you do so, you might appear inexperienced, disrespectful, and tactless.

You will lose trust quickly.  

It’s important to take into account other people’s perspectives, and the situation, your own motivation, and manage your behaviour and words accordingly.

As highlighted in the Forbes article “The dark side of authentic leadership” some leaders are self-absorbed. They might think they are too entitled to have to worry about consequences “they worked hard for their position at the top” and act in their own selfish interests with too little consideration for what others need. 

Other leaders try to wear a mask. As Brene Brown says in order to pretend they have it all figured out. To make them look good or to fit in. 

Here are some things you might want to remember when it comes to authentic leadership: 

  1. To be very considered in how to frame messages, when to speak and when to stay silent
  2. What could be beneficial to show vulnerability, to build a real connection like admitting you don’t know a certain answer yet, but are curious for others’ input
  3. When are you acting against your own values if you would not tell the truth?
  4. To consider how much the other individual/your team needs to hear at the moment. Do you need to protect them? Do you need to maintain a safe space for them on this ship while the sea is battling heavy waves?

authentic leader

Myth 3: Authentic Leaders are “Open Books”

The third myth is all about how much you share of yourself. Sharing personal information is part of authentic leadership, this is something you might have heard a lot. You can be authentic and still keep your personal lives personal. It’s not about disclosing all of your vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the name of being genuine,  personal anecdotes can help us connect but it’s important to understand there is still a healthy balance to be found.

Sometimes it is important to keep a little distance. Your team has to feel safe and if sharing your current struggles could make them feel scared or worried, it might be a good idea to not share it all with them, but find someone else, a peer, to talk it through.

And then once you have walked through your issues, you can share your struggles and how you overcame it, it is so powerful.

You become relatable. Sharing all the intimate details of what’s happening in your personal life with your colleagues is not a requirement of authentic leadership. Instead, it’s about sharing information that’s contextually relevant in order to establish or strengthen bonds. 

It’s perfectly acceptable to project the pieces of your genuine self that you believe will have the most positive and productive effect on others.

Or when the pandemic hit and we started to work from home, people struggled with managing work and family life. It was so refreshing to see leaders share their funny stories of how their toddler interrupted their conference call or the cats that keep walking across the desk while they were on Zoom.

But then there are moments where it’s important that you do keep that a little bit to yourself to make sure that your team feels safe. So it’s always important to understand and be intentional with being honest, with being open, with being vulnerable, that’s the key to powerful, authentic leadership.

It is about being intentional. When am I going to open up? What story am I going to share?

Myth 4: Authentic leaders have to know exactly who they are

The four and final myth is having it all figured out. You know what? You do not have to have it all figured out. No one has. The journey to self-discovery can literally last a lifetime. It  does not require you to know with 100% certainty who you are or how you’ll feel about every situation you’ll encounter. 

You don’t need to have all the answers, react perfectly in every situation. It’s about staying true to our values and allowing ourselves to learn from experience and be inspired by others.

If we made a mistake, we own up to it and adapt our behaviour accordingly.

We are allowed to change directions as long as we have pure intentions that are aligned to our values.

If you can own up to your shortcomings with candor and apply the lessons learned moving forward, you’ll not only emerge as a stronger leader, but also inspire those around you to follow suit.

At any point in time, if you’re self-aware, self-reflective. If you keep your values in mind and if you look at what’s best for your team, for the business, for the role that you have. If you lead with a positive intent, you are doing the best you can, but being open to when we made a mistake and are learning from our experiences, that is really the key to being powerful, authentic.

The facts about authentic leadership 

Let’s sum up the myths and give you an overall experience of what you can look like as an authentic leader. 

Fact 1: Authentic Leadership  is not about being rigid and stuck in one style.

Fact 2: Authentic leadership is not about being bluntly, honest at all times, but it is about crafting your message in the right moment, being open and honest about your values and what you stand for and sharing information that has been official for the people that you.

Fact 3: You don’t need to be an open book, while vulnerability is helpful to build genuine connection, it’s about choosing the right words in the right moment. Keep in mind your vulnerability should either be supporting others feeling less alone, feeling understood or seeing hope.

Fact 4: You don’t have to have it all figured out yet. You don’t need to know who you are yet. It’s a journey. We all learn to be the best leaders every day.

What is authentic leadership? 

Authentic leadership is just that. Being authentic to you and your values. It is about self discovery and of course that means mistakes along the way. When you are being a true authentic leader, it feels natural to you. It never feels forced and you lead from a place that is aligned to who you are as a person and how you see your team. Are you ready to discover your authentic leadership superpower? Take my 2-minute quiz to uncover it NOW!

Final thoughts 

Almost ten years ago, Harvard Business School professor Bill George and several of his colleagues set out on the largest leadership development study ever undertaken to understand how leaders become and remain authentic. After analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, they came to this conclusion: “You do not have to be born with specific characteristics or traits of a leader. Leadership emerges from your life story.”

By thinking of authenticity as a journey rather than a finish line, allowing ourselves to develop the passions and values that will guide us in building meaningful relationships, and ultimately successful businesses. 

Authenticity requires us to have a great sense of self-awareness, internal and external. To understand what is important to us, Our triggers, emotional reactions, what motivates us, what drives us.

It requires awareness, humility, dropping the ego and the ability to serve and a good dose of vulnerability.

Do you want to know what type of authentic leader you are? Take my QUIZ!