What is Authentic Leadership and Why Should You Encourage It?

This leadership approach is particularly beneficial during times of change and transformation when trust, collaboration and engagement are acutely important.

Margo Hoyt, Managing Director, Talent & Leadership Development
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Authentic leadership is somewhat of a trendy phrase these days, and it gets thrown around a lot to describe what’s key for today’s leaders. But what exactly is authentic leadership and why is it important to have in your organization?

Authentic leadership is when you can see a clear and consistent set of values through a leader’s actions and words – regardless of the situation. This leadership approach is particularly beneficial during times of change and transformation when trust, collaboration and engagement are acutely important.

How do people become authentic leaders?

Authentic leadership might come naturally to some people, but for most it takes work. Authentic leaders make the effort to understand their personal values and their unique value as a leader. Trying to fulfill a stereotype of what the ideal leader should be generally comes across as less genuine. It’s better that leaders understand what is most important to them (mission, principles, values) and assess their personal strengths and challenges. Once you understand what’s important, then the work is in deliberately and consistently leading that way.

Communication is fundamental in how we demonstrate our authenticity. Adopting an open-door policy, having frequent group and individual feedback sessions, practicing active listening, and sharing stories that demonstrate what is important go a long way to really connect with others. Leaders that show vulnerability and reveal their human side are more relatable and perceived as more authentic.

Benefits of authentic leadership

There are several clear benefits of authentic leadership; one of the most important is trust. Trust is paramount when leading individuals, teams and organizations through a crisis as well as through the types of organizational transformations and change that are on-going. With trust as a backbone, teams and cultures are supportive of each other and all individuals are encouraged to do their best work.

Authentic leadership tends to promote stronger collaboration and more effective communication across teams as well. This contributes to a positive work environment where employees share openly, celebrate success, and identify challenges in time to be addressed.

Employee engagement and motivation can be hard to maintain in a remote world, but authentic leadership is often also credited for higher engagement and productivity. When people feel and see that their leaders truly care about their physical and mental health, they’re more productive, stay engaged in their jobs for longer, and might even help recruit other star employees down the line.  We’ve seen significant success engaging teams through the pandemic by moving away from arms-length relationships and connecting at deeper, more holistic and more personal levels.

For more on authentic leadership, listen to Margo’s interview with CBC Radio about how leaders can better leverage their unique self to guide their teams to success.

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