How do you encourage authentic leadership in the workplace?

Written by
Anne Brassier
Published on
August 7, 2023

What does it mean to be authentic at work, whether you are a leader or not? What are authentic leadership characteristics? What makes someone a great and successful leader? How do you cultivate authentic leadership in the workplace? Why does any of this matter?!

Before we answer those questions, let's start with some magic talk...

A huge benefit of using magic in our workshops and programmes – no matter what the theme is, whether it's The Power of Perception or Lead With Magic – is that its presence helps to create a space where people feel safe enough to be themselves; a space where they can reveal aspects of their personalities that they do not usually expose in the workplace. Over the past seven years we’ve seen thousands of people blossom, or – unleash their magic as we see it.

The ability to be ourselves – our true, real, authentic selves – at work benefits us as individuals as well as the teams and organisations we work in. It creates a healthy culture of openness, respect, understanding and collaboration, often reflecting a company's core values. In turn this leads to engaged employees, improved performance at work, job satisfaction and authentic leaders in the making!

Leadership theory

Authenticity as a core value at work creates great leaders with great leadership style that others want to follow, but also do their best work with - authentic leaders with self awareness and a solid moral perspective.

Team enjoying time together

What does being authentic at work mean?

There’s a lot of talk about 'bringing your authentic self' to work, for example this TedX talk by Mike Robbins, author of the catchily titled book, Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken

Bringing your whole self to work means being true to yourself in your thoughts and actions; it means not donning a mask or persona and pretending to be someone you’re not. It means not pretending to be confident when you don’t feel it, not pretending you know what you’re doing all the time when you don't and not pretending you’re not anxious or nervous when you are. You get the gist.

Being your authentic self at work, especially bearing in mind the demands of teamwork and leadership, is hard. It means showing vulnerability, admitting you don’t always have the answer and that sometimes, you don’t know what to do. 

Why do I need to be my true self at work?

The real me is just for home... My personal life is just that, personal I don’t need to ‘bring my whole self’ to work do I? I should be a different person at work and at home, no?

Traditionally, this is certainly what many employees, especially those in leadership positions, have thought. But being your true self at work doesn't mean being unprofessional or ignoring workplace norms and guidelines. Professionalism is essential, but it can coexist with authenticity and lead to much much better working relationships. Authenticity encourages genuine bonds with colleagues, building more meaningful relationships that are based on trust and understanding. If others see you as behaving authentically, they are more likely to be open and honest with you, creating a positive and supportive culture at work.

It's double important that leaders be capable of authenticity because if they can model this in the workplace, colleagues are likely to follow as they will feel they have the permission 'from above'!

Team gathered round activity on the floor

Five benefits of being authentic at work:

  1. Trust
  2. Communication
  3. Relationships
  4. Teamwork!
  5. Collaboration

1. Trust

Being genuine, authentic and true to yourself helps colleagues feel safe and confident when working with you. Like we said above, others model positive behaviour so the more people being authentic, the better... the more this positivity will spread.

2. Communication

If you are true to yourself, others will be able to express their thoughts and ideas to you without fear of judgement or negative consequences. Communication will improve immensely! This is so important in the hybrid world - between colleagues and teams in different locations - where good communication can go astray very quickly.

3. Relationships

Genuine interactions, driven by people being authentic, will deepen relationships between colleagues so that work feels more enjoyable and more supportive. There is no downside here!

4. Teamwork!

Go from being a group of people who happen to work together to a strong team. Teams led with authenticity benefit from multiple perspectives and skills, which develop and strengthen the team. And when there’s a diverse range of voices, opinions, points of view and skills, better ideas and solutions emerge, boosting feel-good motivation.

5. Collaboration

All the benefits of being authentic at work that we've talked about here - trust, communication, relationships and teamwork - create an atmosphere that boosts collaboration. And when colleagues collaborate well, creative problem–solving and innovation thrive. People then feel proud of their achievements and productivity increases.

What are the most important leadership skills?

Whether you're leading yourself or a team, mastering these skills will boost your leadership skills!

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Open up to self awareness... No-one is perfect so be honest with yourself about what you're good at and areas where you can improve. Teams exist for a reason, because no-one is good at absolutely everything all the time, so we all benefit from the skills of colleagues. Imagine how flattered you feel when someone says - hey, you're great at copywriting; could you help me with this task? There's no shame in asking for help in areas you're weaker at.

Be Honest

We can't emphasis this enough - learn to be honest with yourself and with colleagues. Don’t pretend to be someone at work that you're not, you won't be able to maintain a facade forever. At some point, usually a stressful moment, your defences will give way and you'll crack. It's far better to be yourself from the start!

be consistent

Find a way to be at work that feels consistent with who you are - align your inner self and the you that presents at work. It takes less energy to be authentic at work than to maintain a work personality.

Accept your imperfections

There are undoubtedly things you could be better at and things you could learn more about… Get comfortable with your flaws, everyone has them! Yes, revealing them can be scary, but be brave and be authentic, people will appreciate your openness.

Respect diversity and divergence

Respect other perspectives and other points of view; remember that we all see the world from our own viewpoint and with our own mindset. There are rarely absolute rights and wrongs, and you might be pleasantly surprised by an alternate perspective a colleague presents. Being authentic means being respectful of difference, even when you don't agree with it.

Embrace vulnerability…

The best leaders are willing to be vulnerable. Hiding in the middle of this list is the most difficult aspect of being our true selves at work! Being authentic means having the courage to be open with colleagues, sharing both the good and the not-so-good – for example, when you’re feeling low, when you disagree on something, when you’re not great at something… Showing vulnerability does not mean you are weak and we reinforce that in our sessions, there is no humiliation, no judging, no finger pointing. Just a celebration of people willing to take risks and be open in front of colleagues. Challenge yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone in the learning space might bolster you to try it in other parts of your life, particularly your work life. Because being vulnerable at work is hard, but people who lead with authenticity lean into their vulnerability, which, in turn, encourages others to do the same.

Why is authentic leadership important?

Authenticity supports businesses. People with a true leader style have a whole personality, take responsibility, and are fully incorporated into the work place. This includes:

Organisations with an authentic culture have more engagement in their employees and have more positive psychological attitudes. In contrast to the above, inauthenticity can be recognised and become disruptive, negative forces adding to the ambiguity, distrustfulness and lacking enthusiasm among workers. It becomes easier to be an authentic person once you've a fit.

According to the Harvard Business Review, authenticity has become "the gold standard for leadership". But, the article warns that it's important to understand the concept of authenticity in a well-rounded way - don't be fake in your authentic leadership style! Be self-aware, use self-reflection and emotional intelligence, keep the same values... take your leadership role seriously.

Woman smiling holding magical light

3 examples of authentic leadership in action

1. Great listening skills

The best leadership has strong advice. But leaders develop trust and respect in relationships through active listening. A leader should understand another's viewpoint in moral terms. The ability of leaders to listen is essential to understanding their clients and their needs. A person makes a decision reflecting his/her personal values and providing lasting value through improved employment experience for those around them.

2. Emotional control

Everyone's feelings. Those involved are those that take the lead. But demonstrating leadership authenticity really means not letting emotions interfere with fulfilling their job as leaders. A truly transformational leader provides honest feedback but doesn't let personal dissatisfaction affect his decision or actions.

3. Take action, but get support

Make changes in life to transform your hopes and dreams. Maybe you want drastic changes, but keep in mind that you don' t have to change everything at once. You will begin by taking small steps slowly aligning your behaviour with your highest values. Remember that genuine changes happen rarely. In some instances a significant change in leadership may be considered false or manipulative. You won't make lasting changes without the dedication and constant adjustments you've taken to improve. Bring a trusted colleague or friends with you to ensure authenticity.

How can you cultivate authentic leaders in your workplace

Cultivating authentic leaders in your workplace is essential for fostering a positive and high-performing environment. To help your current and emerging leaders find their own authentic leadership style, ignite their self-awareness, and provide a strategic framework to help them have an impact through their decisions and actions.

Our programme is designed to:

  • Ignite self-awareness and belief: Everyone has the capacity to lead.
  • Identify personal values and apply them at the workplace: Managers and leaders can learn to use their values to make authentic and clear decisions that support their team and improve its performance.
  • Build trust and empathy between colleagues to improve communication: Work on feedback and coaching skills to unlock interpersonal dynamics.
  • Uncover everyone's unique leadership superpowers!

Through our workshops, participants uncover their individual leadership superpowers, enabling them to inspire, support, and drive their teams to success. By fostering self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication, they develop into leaders who inspire, support, and drive their teams to success.

Embrace the power of authentic leadership and unlock the true potential of your workforce today.

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