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What are traits of authentic leaders?

Dwell in possibility!
Dwell in possibility!
Yasuhido Fumoto Getty Images 2010

Throughout my career, I have been in roles where I've been asked to implement change and lead teams of people who don't report to me on the organizational chart. I've had to create, direct, motivate and implement strategic plans or programs with individuals or teams where there are no real consequences if they don't do what I ask. From my work in financial services to academia, I've quickly come to realize that inspiring new approaches requires an authentic style of leadership. Being able to motivate is important, but the ability to affect change, increase accountability and see measurable results requires clarity, alignment, focus and heart. The authentic leader finds a way to connect the mission, vision and tasks to the hearts and minds of the people. In corporations and academic institutions, I believe people are starving for authentic leaders. If you are a leader or seek to become one, here are five traits I've observed in authentic leaders:

1) Dream big dreams. Authentic leaders are typically visionaries. They see beyond the current predicament or situation. They believe that greater things have yet to be done and positive change is possible through consistent commitment to hard work. They are realistic enough to see data, cultures and behaviors as influencers but not as roadblocks. The have hope for a better future and try to insprie that hope in others. They seek to methodically implement big organizational improvements and inspire what is possible.

2) Have strong values. Authentic leaders tend to demonstrate moral character, integrity and believe in something greater than themselves. When you are around an authentic leader you can feel it. The authentic leader's core values are mainly seen and sometimes heard. They are noble, trustworthy, respected and compassionate. They often have motivational sayings or quotes displayed in their office. The authentic leader may attend church regularly or is part of a strong faith community. They will always do what is right over what is popular.

3) Try to improve self first. The authentic leader knows they have weaknesses. They try to surround themselves with others who have strengths to balance out their weakensses. Their bookshelf contains the latest books on leadership or they may attend conferences for continuous learning in their area of expertise. They tend to work hard but exercise and try to make time to take care of themselves. They know that their physical health and stamina is important. They rest when they are tired and encourage others to do the same. They tend to eat right and maintain a healthy appearance.

4) Show courage. Being an authentic leader requires guts. Sometimes the authentic leader must speak the truth in a change resistant environment. They address problems on the team or within the organization through honest, consistent communication. They are not complainers or hurtful, just honest. And not everyone is ready for that honesty, so the authentic leader may not be the most popular or well-liked, but they speak their truth in love anyway.

5) Seek to leave a legacy. The authentic leader sees their work as bigger than themselves. They want to touch lives of people they haven't met. They want to leave a place better than they found it. They embrace changing times and trends but hold on to enduring values. Authentic leaders have no doubt that others want to catch the spark and light the flame for years to come. They want the future to be more streamlined and simplified, but always better for the next generation.

Finally, Kierkegaard, describes the passion and possibility thinking of the authentic leader:
If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for passionate sense of what can be, for the eye which ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints...possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so possibility?

What traits would you add to this list? What traits have you observed in authentic leaders? Leave your comments below...


  • Brian Stoddard 5 years ago

    This is a great article and there is a fantastic book entitled The Leadership Challenge which is based on over 25 years of empirical research data that is compiled in a simple to read format that will benefit anyone who reads it!

  • Karen 5 years ago

    Thanks Brian, I have not read the book you mentioned. I look forward reading it.

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