Authentic Leadership: 5 Traits & Applicability

Authentic leadership style is a leadership style that inspires people through trust and integrity. Transparency is the key characteristic of authentic leadership. We have gone through authentic leadership, 5 traits, debates about the applicability of this leadership style, and famous authentic leaders in this article.

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💡 You might be interested in the 21 Leadership Skills Professionals Expect to See in the Workplace article.

What is Authentic Leadership?

Leadership today is very different from leadership in previous generations. The top-down approach in management is old school. No one wants to work in such an environment anymore. Values, mission, and how the individual’s interest matches with them are much more important in today’s leadership compared to the past. Individuals expect to feel as if their work matters for the organization and they would like to feel special and authentic leadership plays an important role here.

Authentic leadership creates a strong bond between leadership and team members through integrity, trust, and open communication. Authentic leaders are easily approachable, willing to be open about the issues, frequently communicate with the team, and inform the team transparently.

đź’ˇ Read 15 Types of Leadership article to learn about other leadership styles.

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Being authentic may not be easy all the time. Authenticity can mean many different things and involves a wide range of leadership skills, actions, and behaviors. For example, when the company is planning to lay off some of the team members from the team, is it easy to apply authentic leadership, be transparent, and share this information with the team?

Authentic leaders have their own values and they lead their teams based on these values. They know who they are, and they don’t let anyone keep them from making a decision that they know is right. They have integrity and a firm moral code, and they manage to stay sensible and stable even during the most difficult times.

Authentic leadership is very similar to Ethical Leadership in many aspects.

Why is Authenticity Important in Leadership?

People thrive to work on a mission, vision, and values. Transactional leadership alone won’t work for the individuals who value the organization’s goals, missions, and objectives. People have higher expectations from the workplace and their leadership. That is why inspiring passion and confidence in teams is crucial for success.

When people work alongside a truly authentic leader, they’ll often give their whole hearts and minds to the cause. In these situations, a spirit of teamwork and loyalty can spread throughout an organization, resulting in high morale and producing extraordinary results. Therefore, if teamwork, collaboration, and communication are vital for the success of an organization or project, authentic leadership will boost the performance of the team members.

Authentic Leadership: How to Lead Authentically YouTube Video

We have a 7-minute YouTube video. The video focuses on how to lead authentically.

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5 Traits of Authentic Leadership

The authentic leadership path is not straight and well-defined. As we said earlier, it involves many different skills, traits, and actions. But, by focusing on some of the most common characteristics, you can start down your own way to be an authentic leader.

1- Authentic Leadership Fosters Integrity and Trust

As integrity and trust are the backbone of authentic leadership, we should not be surprised that the first trait is integrity and trust. By the way, integrity and trust is the 2nd top demanded leadership skill professionals expect to see in their workplace. See the leadership skills survey results.

Authentic leaders follow the rules, ethical standards, and moral principles. They are fair and at equal distance to all members of the group. Their actions are taken as a role model by others. Therefore, leaders must be trustworthy.

You should have seen examples where leaders or managers go along better, and have more personal relationships with some individuals compared to others. Humans are social, and this can be. However, your personal relationships must not affect your work and attitude toward the people in your team.

2- Communication

Authentic leaders are excellent communicators. They use several different communication strategies to pass along their values, inspire their teams, and give clear instructions.

Communication, relationship, and interpersonal skills are crucial for great leaders. Based on research, executives and managers spend 90% of their time on communication. Authentic leaders frequently communicate with their team and inform them about the news, situations, and issues. Therefore, communication is a critical trait of authentic leadership.

Professionals seek for confident and easy communication with their leaders. They expect to see emotional intelligence and leaders who can see the issues from different perspectives. Have you seen leaders go to their room in the morning, go to meeting after meeting until the evening, and not set aside any time for their team? That’s an example of bad communication.

Leaders should wander around and be visible to the people in their team. So, people should feel comfortable when communicating with their leaders and the leaders should be easily accessible. That is why professionals pick communication as the top leadership skill.

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3-Feedback (giving and receiving)

Communication requires “give and take.” Authentic leaders understand that the world isn’t just about them, and they listen actively to other people and accept good advice, no matter where it comes from or who gives it. Feedback is crucial in authentic leadership.

Good communication also involves feedback. It can be incredibly difficult for leaders to get the feedback they need to improve, no one wants to tell the CEO that his idea stinks!. However authentic leaders work hard to create a culture of open communication. They know they are not perfect, and they hire people who are willing to tell them so.

In many cases, leaders or managers come together with their team members annually or every six months to make a performance review. This is a very long period. Leaders should be visible and approachable. The feedback mechanism should be two-way. Leaders should give feedback to the team members, well, this is normal. However, leaders should be mature enough to receive any type of feedback from team members as well.

Actually, feedback is one of the best ways to see how others see you. Therefore, make sure you establish a productive feedback mechanism in your organization.

4- Situational Leadership

All leaders have power. But authentic leaders know how to use the right kind of power – for the good of the group, and for the goal that needs to be achieved. There are several different kinds of power. One type is expert power. When you have expert power, your team looks up to you because of your skills, knowledge, and experience.

Authentic leaders don’t just know what type of power to use in a given situation. They also understand power – where it comes from, and how to use it to get things done.

Authentic leaders apply situational leadership to address different situations, different experience levels, and maturity in an organization. Hersey and Blanchard developed the Situational Leadership theory in the 1970s. Since then, it has been widely adopted by several leaders focusing on short-term goals and is well suited to authentic leadership style as well.

The situational leadership theory focuses on four different types of behaviors, Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating. The model supports different styles for different maturity and performance levels as well.

Situational leadership best works when there are different levels of experience and motivation in the group. Steve Jobs, Eisenhower, and Collin Powell are known as famous situational leaders.

Read more about situational leadership.

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5- Authentic Leadership Requires Conflict Management and Negotiation

Conflicts are unavoidable wherever there is human interaction. You should not be afraid of the conflicts. However, authentic leaders must have conflict management and negotiation leadership skills.

There are five types of conflict management techniques:

  1. Avoiding: This is simply delaying to make a decision about the issue.
  2. Competing: Addressing the conflict directly and trying to solve the conflict as quickly as possible.
  3. Accommodating: This is resolving the issue by giving in to the opposing party.
  4. Compromising: This is referred to as “lose-lose” as well. Each side is pushed to make some sacrifices to reach a resolution.
  5. Collaborating: This method looks for “win-win” resolution. Parties look for a solution that will make everyone happy.

Authentic leaders should use their leadership skills to overcome conflicts in the best way. Win-win may not be the ultimate outcome in some circumstances.

Debates About the Applicability of Authentic Leadership

“Authenticity”, “trust”, “integrity”, “transparency” and many other characteristics of authentic leadership sound compelling. However, it is not very easy to be authentic on many occasions. Therefore, there are debates about the applicability of authentic leadership. Let’s explain this through a fictitious scenario.

Scenario – PharmaPro is Shutting Down San Diego Facility – Authentic Leadership Applicability

Kate is the Executive Vice President of the PharmaPro, a pharmaceutical company. Kate leads the production units and the company has production units in three locations: Austin, San Diego, and Chicago. Due to increasing costs, the company decided to shut down its facility in San Diego and increase the workforce in Chicago and Austin.

The San Diego facility produces BoostX, a vitamin and one of the flagship products of the PharmaPro. 790 people are working in this facility and the company does not want to let the people know about the shutdown and layoffs as it may cause strikes or a decrease in production performance.

Is it easy for Kate to apply authentic leadership in this case? Of course not. If she will be transparent with her team, she has to share that the company will be closing down the facility. Then, the workers may organize strikes, or their motivation can decrease and this can affect the production.

Famous Authentic Leaders

We are all inspired by different traits, actions, and characteristics, but names that feature regularly on lists of authentic leaders, past and present, include the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Martin Luther King Jr as an Authentic Leader

On 28th August 1963, Martin Luther King addressed a crowd of over 250,000. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he calls for an end to racism and equality for all. In 1999, this speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address. Martin Luther King is referred to as one of the most famous authentic leaders.

Steve Jobs as an Authentic Leader

Steve Jobs is one of the famous authentic leaders as well. His famous quote about integrity shows that he is a believer in authentic leadership.

“You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through. You need to do good even when nobody’s looking. It’s not about others, it’s about your integrity.”

President Barrack Obama as an Authentic Leader

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama is well-known for giving value to all perspectives and ideas in his meetings. He was sharing the situation transparently with the team and expecting to come to a consensus based on the current conditions.


Authentic leadership style is a leadership style that requires integrity, trust, and open communication with the team. The philosophy behind authentic leadership is ensuring transparency, improving team relationships, and in this way improving team performance.

Authentic leadership has several traits. The top five traits are integrity, effective communication, feedback, situational leadership, and conflict management. Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, and President Obama are examples of famous authentic leaders.

Even though integrity, trust, and authenticity sound appealing, there are criticisms about the applicability of authentic leadership. In some cases, it is not possible or easy to be transparent with the team as it may cause underperformance or even worse outcomes.

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