Do You Know How To Be More “Authentic” in Leadership?


Struggling with being a genuine leader? Discover why authenticity matters and how you can embrace it in your leadership journey.

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Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

Did you hear the news?

Merriam-Webster’s 2023 Word of the Year is “Authentic.”

Oxford announced their word for 2023, too: “Rizz.” Rizz refers to a person’s charisma or charm in attracting others.

Rizz is new to me. I’ve never heard this word, much less used this word. It may be my lack of charisma. Or my age. But “authentic,” I’ve heard—more times than I can count.

Be More “Authentic”

I spent a decade in the marketplace before transitioning into ministry leadership. My early marketplace days were like most of your marketplace days. Full of work for profit and shareholder value.

Ministry is different. Nobody ever asked me to be more “authentic” In my marketplace roles. But in the church? I heard it a lot. And I mean, a LOT.

“Can you be a little more authentic?” “When you preach, I’m not sensing too much authenticity.” “Can you say that more authentically?”

“What does that even mean,” I would retort. “I’m feeling frustrated with all your ‘be more authentic’ talk, so should I express my ‘authentic’ frustrations publicly?” I wondered.

What Is Authenticity, Anyway?

It seems weird that a word that’s been around so long is now reaching “Word of the Year” status. Perhaps because the vast majority of people using this word can’t really define this word. They want it, but they don’t know how to describe it. They want their leader or pastor to be more “authentic,” but what does that mean?

By definition, authentic means to be genuine or real. No wonder people crave authenticity. Our world is built on a lack of genuine and real. Today’s movies feel more like a CGI computer creation than a reality of life. Social media is nothing but filters and selfie retakes. Botox, fillers, and plastic have become the norm, not an exception.

Nothing feels real because, in many cases, nothing is real.

Hence, we all desire “authenticity.” We say we desire something real. Something genuine. We say we don’t want fake or filtered. Yet our ongoing overuse of fake is why authentic are in such limited supply.

An Authentic Leader

What does all this mean for us as leaders?

If our staff and organizations desire more authenticity, how can we offer that in a genuine and helpful way?

It’s a great question. I’ve pondered this for over a decade now, so if I may, here are 6 ideas I’ve found “authentically” helpful.

1. Share Your WHOLE Story

Followers want to know and understand leaders. That’s natural. But when leaders only share their highlight reels, they present a sanitized version of themselves. People are attracted to leaders who limp, not strut. Nobody has it so together that they’ve never experienced a failure or setback. We should be willing and able to share our whole selves as part of our entire story.

2. Pass Along Credit and Accept the Blame

Authentic leaders are secure enough to pass along credit while accepting most of the blame. They don’t need to feel better about themselves by hogging the credit. In their security, they can freely support the success of others.

Admit What You Don’t Know

The phrase, “I don’t know, but I’d like us to find out,” is one of the more powerful statements a leader can make. No leader knows everything. And your followers know this is true. When a leader pretends to have all the answers, they don’t fool their team but limit the team’s ability to succeed.

3. Be Quick to Apologize

We call this keeping short accounts. When you’ve wronged or hurt someone, even if accidental, authentic leaders are quick to apologize.

Now, you may be thinking, “they need to grow up and stop being so sensitive.” And perhaps you’re correct. Many people are too easily hurt or “triggered” these days. But it’s unhelpful to them, you, or the organization to allow a hurt to fester.

If there is pain, it’s worth a conversation. Authentic leaders can apologize and, in doing so, gain influence to have a more nuanced growth conversation in the future.

4. Be Self Aware

Self-awareness is a crucial trait of healthy leaders. Authentic leaders seek to be more aware of themselves. This is easy because everyone around you knows what you’re good at, not good at, pretend to be good at, etc.

Being self-aware means you can acknowledge what almost everyone else knows. If you’re unsure if you’re self-aware, conduct a 360-degree review. Or just ask some team members what they see positively and negatively in you.

5. Engage in Curiosity, not Criticism

Authentic leaders tend to be more empathetic leaders. They aren’t out to put people down but pull them up. Curiosity is the pathway to helping everyone improve.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should avoid truthful evaluations and critical analysis of people and performance. It does mean you do it from a posture of support. An authentic leader can have these conversations.

6. Embrace Diversity

As authentic leaders know they don’t have all the answers, they do everything possible to bring diverse ideas and opinions to the decision table. This means surrounding yourself with people not like yourself.

The Results?

Through personal experience and study, I’ve found that authentic leaders are loved, admired, and trusted more than any other leaders, which makes sense.

While an inauthentic leader may believe they’re fooling everyone, their counterfeit confidence fools very few. Pretending to be more than you are is pretentious and disingenuous. These fake behaviors also erode trust and influence.

The problem is how much security is required for authenticity to appear.

Insecure leaders cannot be authentic or genuine. These leaders are terrified of being “found out.” They live in a world of filters and image management, which looks good on the surface but doesn’t last under pressure.

On the other hand, the authentic leader earns trust with honesty. These leaders gain influence whenever they admit what they don’t know and ask for help. Remember, leadership is about influence, not image.

Would Your Team Say You’re “Authentic?”

If not, you can reverse course by embracing the above suggestions. I say that with a high degree of personal experience. My initial leadership years were marked by insecurity, leading me to walk and talk like a leader while secretly suffering under the pressure of being an imposter.

When I decided (finally) to be the complete and best version of myself, the requests for authenticity stopped. I learned a lot while making this leadership shift:

  1. People knew I wasn’t being honest or authentic.
  2. People wanted to know me…really know me.
  3. People wanted to trust me but weren’t sure I was trustworthy.
  4. I gained more influence by being less certain and self-confident.
  5. Our team and organization became more successful as I became more authentic.
  6. We attracted more leaders when I led with more authenticity.
  7. I learned more about our staff’s strengths and weaknesses when I more openly displayed mine.
  8. Better ideas emerged when our team embraced vulnerability.

I could keep going, but you get the point. If leading from a place of authenticity scares you, it’s time to get over it. You’ll find freedom and greater success on the other side of honesty. Trust me.