In an era where virtually everyone is calling themselves a leader or entrepreneur, how can we distinguish the truly great ones from everyone else? And more importantly, how can we become one of the great ones?

​At a recent Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) leadership summit, I had the opportunity to learn from one of my most inspirational mentors who happens to also be a great speaker: Warren Rustand, a lifelong entrepreneur and former NBA player.

Warren is the CEO of Providence Service Corporation (NASDAQ; PSC) a $1.2 Billion social services and Logistics Management Company. He was previously Managing Director of SC Capital Partners an investment banking group, and Chairman and CEO of Rural Metro Corporation, a $600 million, publicly traded emergency services company.

He also served as Chairman and CEO of TLC Vision, the world's largest Lasik eye surgery company. He has served as Chairman/CEO of 6 other companies.

He has served as a member of the Board of Directors for over 50 public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. The range of these organizations is from multi-billion dollar public companies, to midsize, early stage, and startups. As CEO he has taken two companies public, one of which is the largest in its industry and the other is the second largest in its industry.

According to Rustand, there are 8 behaviors that all authentic leaders master along the way to greatness.

1: They are true to themselves.
Authentic leaders know who they are at their core. They know their personal value systems, and they don't put themselves in positions that may require them to compromise those values.

2: They are prepared to go it alone.
Leadership can be very lonely, which is why leaders require support groups to include other leaders that understand the isolation that accompanies the job.

You can find support in many places, including global communities like EO, Young Presidents Organization, and Women Presidents Organization, you can join or create a Mastermind Group, or you can build an Advisory Board.

Personally, my support groups (including my EO Forum, Mastermind Group, and my advisory team) are my lifelines. They provide emotional support, strategic support, and accountability. They also shed light on my blind spots so that I can be the best version of myself.

"Sometimes you have to lead alone to get people to follow you," explains Rustand.

It is often much easier and less painful to acquiesce to what others believe, and to follow the road that the masses take. When we choose this path, however, in that moment we choose the role of follower over leader.

3: They are committed to serving others.
Authentic leaders live from a place of service. Whether it is formally through our companies that we serve our employees or customers, or whether it is through the path of pro-bono work, philanthropy, or non-profit participation, a commitment to serving others is weaved into an authentic leaders' DNA.

"If you have not helped someone else today, if you have not served others today, then you must constitute that as a bad day." ~Warren Rustand

4: They are committed to continuous learning.
Authentic leaders know that the day we stop learning is the day our spirit starts dying. In our commitment to always be the best we can be, we know that we can't possibly know all of the answers - or even all the questions. Authentic leaders view every situation in our lives as an opportunity for personal and professional development.

5: They are committed to developing genuine relationships.
Heart-based connections based on trust and respect are essential for authentic leadership. They genuinely enjoy sharing their history and experiences, and they want to know the stories of others.

Authentic leaders don't seek out relationships due to hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Instead, they connect with others, and create connections among others, because they want to enrich the lives of those they meet. They also know that life is more joyful when we are connected with like-minded people.

6: They value trust and forgiveness.
Authentic leaders live and lead with compassion. A fundamental element of compassion is forgiveness. We have all been wronged by others, and we have all wronged others. Imperfection is a standard human condition.

When we forgive people that violate our trust, we give them the gift of self-forgiveness and redemption. It takes much more energy to be angry than to be forgiving, and much more energy to hold a grudge than to offer a second chance.

7: They empower others.
Authentic leaders allow others to represent them. They equip these representatives with the knowledge and skill sets they need to be successful, rather than trying to do everything themselves. They don't have a compelling need to control everything.

Setting others up for success, and creating a team of leaders to support them, is one of the most powerful acts of authentic leadership.

8: They motivate others to higher performance.
Authentic leaders are committed to helping those around them achieve their greatest potential. They inspire others to want more, dream bigger, and exceed their self-limitations. Authentic leaders let their followers know that they are behind them if they stumble, and that it is safe to take risks.

The 7 Habits of Highly Authentic Leaders

How does an aspiring authentic leader arrive at a place of self-awareness and self-confidence to embody these traits? Leadership expert Henna Inam shares the 7 habits of highly authentic leaders in her book, Wired for Authenticity.

Warren Rustand also shared his five secrets to living a life of greatness, and the one question everyone should ask themselves every morning.

Wishing you luck in your continued journey to authentic leadership.

Published on: Sep 12, 2016