You have most likely heard the word authentic used in conjunction with leadership. Is authentic leadership just a buzz phrase, or is it something you should actually care about as you continue to develop yourself as a leader? It is definitely something you should care about, and here's why: Authentic leadership is genuine leadership.

Business growth is more likely to come about with authentic leadership because it is transparent and promotes a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, while authenticity instills a work culture of personal growth, accountability, and innovation.

Here are seven characteristics that all authentic leaders share:

1. You know who you are and what you stand for

This is the most important authentic leadership trait because you cannot possess the other six characteristics if you do not first know who you are and what you are all about. You, in turn, are not afraid to be yourself, show yourself, and let your values be known to others.

2. You transparently interact with others

People know where they stand with you because you are open and honest in your interactions. You don't say and do things just to please others or maintain the status quo just to avoid rocking the boat. 

3. You follow your gut

Since you know who you are and what you stand for, you are in tune with your gut. You listen to what your gut tells you and you do it. But at the same time, you check your gut by listening and absorbing the feedback and opinions of others before you make important decisions.

4. You adhere to a code of ethics 

Authenticity denotes that you are inherently ethical in your business and personal dealings. Some professions, such as law and medicine, have their own codes of ethics that you as a professional have to follow. If your profession does not have an established code of ethics, you should adopt your own and exercise it in everything you do.

5. Your life's work is bigger than you

While your life's purpose and work are driven by your own personal interests and passion, you are driven by something bigger than you, whether you want to make your employees' lives better, to create something to benefit your immediate community, or your product is truly designed to make the world a better place. 

6. Humility

You have the humility to admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake. You can truly ask for forgiveness when it's necessary and take steps to make it right again. 

You don't overuse the word sorry, but instead reserve an apology for the most appropriate circumstances. 

7. You embody the 3 C's: Compassion, Curiosity, and Courage 

The 3 C's are: Compassion, Curiosity, and Courage. Since you possess the six other characteristics mentioned above, you embody the 3 C's. 

  • Compassion: You are not only compassionate to others, you also engage in self-compassion. This is an especially important practice when you are faced with your shortcomings as a leader. You are kind to yourself in these moments.
  • Curiosity: You engage with yourself and those you lead from a place of curiosity. When you disagree with a colleague, you are curious about his or her point of view, instead of judgmental. You are curious as a means to understand, not judge. 
  • Courage: Self-compassion and curiosity are what allow you to be a courageous leader. When you exhibit your courage and fail, self-compassion is what picks you up and allows you to be courageous again.

Authentic leaders may not exhibit all of these characteristics at the same time because authentic leadership involves developing more tolerance for vulnerability, which is difficult. As Dr. Brené Brown says, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage." Authentic leadership is courageous leadership because you have to make yourself vulnerable by showing others who you truly are, which also opens you up for criticism.

Authentic leadership and transparent work culture are one and the same: You cannot have one without the other. A leader does not suddenly become authentic, just as a work culture doesn't one day become transparent. Authentic leadership is a constant journey and commitment, both to your own growth and to the growth of something bigger than yourself. 

Published on: Mar 18, 2016