Authentic Leadership: What Is It? Pros & Cons + Example

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Authentic Leadership What Is It Pros & Cons + Example

Authentic leadership is one of the many different leadership types you could experiment with. This style of leadership allows you to truly be yourself and find what makes you passionate.

Nowadays, so many leadership styles claim to let you do that, too. So, what makes the authentic leadership style different? In general, it is very unrestrictive. Instead of giving you strict guidelines, it encourages you to go with the flow.

If that sounds appealing to you, realize this: changing your leadership approach is not as easy as you think. You are probably used to the status quo, the traditional leading method.

Transitioning from that will take some work. However, many successful authentic leaders will tell you the effort is worth the payout.

In this article, we will provide you with an honest evaluation of the benefits and drawbacks of the authentic leadership style as well as what you can do to implement it.

What Is Authentic Leadership? Definition & Meaning

Today may be the first time you have heard of this concept. But, it is by now ways a new notion. Since the 1980s, psychology experts have been discussing the importance of being yourself in the workplace.

The term was coined in 2003 when Bill George wrote his popular book titled Authentic Leadership.

In general, authentic leaders are individuals who see their strengths and weaknesses and choose to embrace them. They know who they are, and they are proud of it.

Instead of hiding their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, they accept them. This does not mean that these individuals do not care for feedback.

They still do, but authentic leaders do not let others belittle them into being someone they are not.

Genuineness is at the heart of this leadership style. Being ethical and having a strictly moral perspective on decision-making is also key.

This simply means that genuine leaders are comprising when it comes to respecting their core values.

These core leadership values define them as a person, and it also defines how they are as a leader.

Why is Authentic Leadership So Important? + Benefits

How often do you feel like you have to change for someone else? Most likely, these situations frustrate you and contribute to burnout. Being authentic at work solves these issues.

It contributes to your ability to stay ethical and confident at the same time. Being uncompromising when it comes to your values is surprisingly positive!

This way, you can stay true to your mission and avoid losing your sense of self. If that sounds impressive, there are even more benefits you should be aware of.

List of 10 Benefits of Authentic Leadership

Additional benefits of the genuine leadership style include:

  1. Boosting your intrinsic motivation (and decreasing your reliance on others for motivation)
  2. Following through with more ethical leadership behavior so you do not feel guilty at work
  3. Staying true to your personal values
  4. Achieving both your short and long-term goals
  5. Setting a positive example for your entire organization: you should not hide your true self
  6. Building a positive company culture that is also inclusive
  7. Higher levels of trust and strengthen employee/employer relationships
  8. Boosting your and your team’s productivity
  9. Becoming more honest and self-aware about both your strengths and weaknesses
  10. Putting a clear emphasis on integrity and honesty in the workplace relationships

3 Examples of Authentic Leadership In Business

You can be a successful leader in any type of business or industry. But, can you be a successful authentic leader in any industry? Truthfully, it is possible.

However, it depends on the specific goals you have as well as your personality as a leader.

If you think the authentic leadership approach may be right for you, consider how it can be applied in different scenarios.

Authentic Leadership in Healthcare

Authentic leadership offers immense benefits to patients in healthcare. Some studies have found that patient outcomes are affected by how authentic their doctors act.

However, a study by Dr. Marques-Quinteiron clarifies that the significance of this relationship depends on several factors, such as the type of patient and the significance of the illness.

When doctors are willing to be themselves, they are generally more positive. This alone can help them avoid burnout and stay motivated in long, arduous shifts.

As a physician, you can increase your attention to detail by being authentic, for you are less stressed and can thus focus better.

Authentic Leadership in The Workplace

If you prefer authentically leading a team, but also have a second leadership style, this can be tough to balance in the workplace.

Those who used an autocratic leadership style previously to transition to an authentic one face the most difficulty.

This is so because there are so many differences between the autocratic leadership type and the authentic ones. Changing from control and dominance to laid-back leadership is genuinely difficult.

Thus, your definition of authentic leadership may change from time to time. And, crafting a blend of leadership styles can sometimes be difficult if you only value authenticity.

Authentic Leadership in Education

Having a leadership role in education can be quite challenging, especially when the world of education is always changing.

Very recent research in Thailand reveals that authenticity in schools can have meaningful impacts on student outcomes.

Those schools which used an authentic style of leadership can expect higher test scores and better attention rates according to Kulophas & Hallinger.

These schools allowed students to explore their own authentic selves as well.

When students decided an activity did not match their interests, educators allowed them to change their schedules. This lead to higher satisfaction and more commitment from students.

Authentic Leadership Key Characteristics

Every leader has their own unique characteristics; not one manager is the same, even if they use the same leadership tactics.

However, there are some characteristics that set authentic leaders apart from the gold-standard individual.


If you do not know who you truly are, how can you embrace yourself? You cannot be an authentic leader without understanding our values, strengths, and weaknesses.

The key is to not only understand these qualities about yourself but also embrace them. This requires humbleness and high emotional intelligence.

An effective leader also recognizes the need to understand others’ perceptions of them.

Great listening skills

Familiarize yourself with the difference between active and passive listening. When you talk to someone, listen deeply. Try to genuinely understand their point of view and ask questions to gain clarity.

If you do this, your advice will be far more accurate and greatly appreciated. Great listening skills will allow you to evaluate your team’s needs and form closer bonds with the group.

By listening carefully, you can also understand whether a candidate’s values align with yours or not.

Emotional control

You cannot ignore your emotions forever. And, no matter how much you feel in control of your emotions, you should have a plan for those times when your emotions are out of control.

Being authentic involves recognizing your emotions and not hiding them. However, you can still recognize emotions while keeping them within your control.

This balance is tough to achieve, but authentic leaders have this balance mastered.


Financial goals are present in any business. However, relationship goals are more unique to authentic leaders.

Ensuring that the employer/employee relationship is strong and trustworthy boosts an authentic leader’s confidence. They put tremendous effort into relationship building.

The result of this is increased positivity, more trust, and employees viewing the leader as approachable.


It is important to remember that no one is perfect. Whenever you inevitably make a mistake, you should admit it, move on, and learn from it.

Even the best leaders recognize this approach is better than ignoring your imperfections. Admitting your mistakes proves that you are a morally driven leader, too.


One of the most positive qualities a leader could have is empathy. It strengthens relationships and allows a leader to stay true to their moral compass.

When employees notice you connect with employees on an empathetic basis, they will understand you are authentic.

To be an empathetic leader, recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Help your employees grow instead of scolding them for making mistakes.


Having strong leadership skills means being able to admit when you are wrong. Some leaders feel their ego is worth more than the success of the business, but in the end, this approach hurts the entire organization.

Admitting your flaws may feel uncomfortable, but doing so will make you grow as a leader. It will also help you feel more comfortable with feedback and criticism.

Long-term goals

The majority of leaders agree: businesses need both long and short-term goals to succeed. Authentic leaders are particularly good at focusing on the long term.

These long-term team goals are tied to their vision and morals. When creating plans, they honestly evaluate possible challenges the team could encounter.

After creating these wider goals, leaders spend time with employees discussing how the overall goal fits in with their individual goals and passions.

How To Develop And Become an Authentic Leader?

Your genuine leadership style is not set in stone. You can always change it to a more authentic leadership method.

Evaluate how authentic you are right now. Ask yourself which parts of your personality you are still holding back.

If you are struggling, consider hiring a coach. There are a few steps anyone can take to become more genuine, moral and character-based leaders.

1. Explore your values

Whenever you make a decision, place your values first. You must be moral and ethical when you lead. Unfortunately, too many leaders place strategy ahead of values.

Realize that placing strategy first will make you less authentic. When interviewing candidates, make sure their values are aligned with yours.

Plainly articulate your values and never hide them.

2. Journal

Journaling is a great way to learn more about yourself. Sometimes, writing allows you to explore parts of yourself you never knew even existed.

You can journal about anything, but consider spending time writing about your goals, values, passions, and losses. These topics will reveal the most about you.

You may even recognize certain patterns that reveal your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Solicit feedback

Many leaders overlook the importance of feedback. Their ego gets in the way of accepting genuine feedback.

Try a simple experiment: ask even a few dozen employees to describe you very simply. It will take each individual just a few minutes, but you will get immensely valuable feedback.

If you feel uncomfortable when getting feedback, write this down. This will make you more self-aware. See if any of the feedback shows you violate your values. If so, create a plan to change.

4. Practice brutal honesty with yourself and gentle honesty with others

Honesty is key when trying to be authentic. Ask yourself if your actions and thoughts are aligned with your values. If they are not aligned, ask yourself why that is so.

Consider if any other values are at play when you make decisions. As a leave, you will need to give others feedback, too. Be honest, but constructive.

Ensure you do not make your staff self-conscious, apologize if you do, and adjust your communication style accordingly.

5. Develop your listening skills

The best leaders are very skilled in active listening. Rule number one is to never interrupt someone when they are speaking. You may have the urge to, but resist, for it is immensely disrespectful.

This seems simple, but it is genuinely difficult for some. Ask questions and be engaged in each conversation. View each conversation as an opportunity to learn something new and display your empathy.

6. Share personal stories

The best way to authentically motivate a team is through a personal connection. Stories are a great way to establish such a connection.

If employees can associate your struggle with theirs, they also start viewing you as more relatable. Thus, they will not be as intimated to approach you for advice or feedback.

Listen to how others react to your stories. You will gain valuable insights into what drives your team.

7. Write your own code of ethics

Ethics and honesty should be at the forefront of every decision. This is certainly true for authentic leaders. Stay committed to this code of ethics, no matter what situation you are in.

There is no reason to be unethical as a leader. Being uncompromising about your values is a core trait of authentic leaders.

Take time to write down these values so you are always reminded of what should drive your every choice.

8. Create a leadership learning plan

To be a great authentic leader, you should accept yourself for who you truly are. However, this does not mean you should be satisfied with your current self and avoid growth.

You can be an authentic leader; you constantly grow and betters yourself. You are not becoming a different person, but rather, being the best version of yourself.

Write down what your current weaknesses are and how you can work on them. Seek advice from others, too. Then, set goals for yourself and work on your leadership growth.

9. Be open to suggestions

Authentic leaders do not isolate themselves from their teams. They are open to hearing other individuals’ views and suggestions. Do not immediately judge someone after they give feedback.

Ask them more in-depth questions to understand them better. See if and why someone disagrees with you.

Which values are different between the two of you, and how can you reach a consensus? That should be the question that you should ask from feedback.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Authentic Leadership

There is no perfect leadership approach. No matter which technique you find most appealing, you must recognize there are drawbacks to it. This is also true with authentic leadership.

Ultimately, you must decide if it is best for your particular situation.

List of 5 Advantages of Authentic Leader

The benefits of authentic leadership include:

  1. Less stress at work and a decreased burnout rate
  2. More motivation from a clearer understanding of your goals
  3. Feeling more comfortable with both your strengths and weaknesses
  4. Becoming more self-aware and humble
  5. Putting long-term success over short-term wins because of placing ethics first

List of 5 Disadvantages of Authentic Leader

The following authentic leadership characteristics are negative:

  1. This could create controversy in the workplace and increases the risk of conflict
  2. Employees may start to view you as clumsy if you often make mistakes and admit this
  3. Authentic leaders are typically less effective and often have trouble prioritizing tasks
  4. Asking others to honestly share feedback can make you feel uncomfortable
  5. You may struggle with identifying who you truly are, which makes you waste time and become less productive

List of 10 Famous Person That Uses Authentic Leadership Styles

Successful leaders each have qualities that help set them apart from their competition. Many of these inspiring leaders and famous individuals attribute their success in part to their authentic leadership model.

Some of these authentic leaders include:

  1. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple
  2. Oprah Winfrey, television personality and media mogul
  3. Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox
  4. Sam Palmisano, former CEO of IBM
  5. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE
  6. Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
  7. Jason Y. Lee, founder of Jubilee Media
  8. Arne Sorensen, former CEO of Marriott
  9. Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic
  10. Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group

Frequently Asked Questions About Authentic Leadership

What are the four components of authentic leadership?

Some psychologists and researchers narrowed down authentic leadership to four specific components: self-awareness, transparency in relationships, balanced decision-making/processing, and a clear understanding of your morals.

Such leaders often reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, which boosts their self-awareness. Transparency is shown when leader shares their vulnerability with their staff.

The balanced component consists of leaders seeking out multiple opinions. Finally, morality and ethics are the guiding principles behind every authentic leader’s decision-making.

What are the three pillars of authentic leadership?

They are self-awareness, ethics (as well as ethical behavior), and self-regulation.

Self-awareness involves trying to understand all elements of your personality, both strengths, and weaknesses.

These leaders also deeply evaluate their ethics. Then, they apply their morals to every decision they make daily.

Self-regulation includes the ability to stay disciplined, flexible, adaptable, patient, resilient, and maintain control over your emotions.

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