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Authentic Leadership
The 5 Characteristics Authentic Leaders Have in Common
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Authentic leadership refers to a management style in which leaders are genuine and transparent with their employees. Of course, authentic leadership seems ideal — but is it always possible to achieve?

The truth is that authentic leadership can be difficult to pull off. Being authentic all the time isn't easy — if it were, everyone would do it. But being an authentic leader means being a great leader, so the least you can do is try your best.

Here's what you should know about authentic leadership and how to achieve it when it's indeed possible.

What are the characteristics of authentic leadership?

Authentic leadership is recognized as leadership that's open and honest. Here are some of the defining characteristics of authentic leadership that you should know.

1. Candor

Authentic leaders are candid. They're honest with their employees about expectations and how they meet (or don't meet) those expectations. Equally, they're honest about the state of the team, the department, the company, the industry and more — this way, everyone is on the same page and can manage expectations of one another.

2. Truthfulness

Authentic leaders always tell the truth. When employees, clients and customers ask questions of them, they're frank — even if the conversation is a tough one to have.

3. Sincerity

Authentic leaders are sincere in what they say. They never say what they don't mean, and their actions align with their words. If they always talk about the importance of teamwork and collaboration, they make an effort be team members. If they always go on about the significance of showing up, they make an ample effort to always be there — to arrive on time and to be available.

4. Forthrightness

Authentic leaders are forthright. They're frank with their employees, clients and customers. If something needs to be done differently, they don't hesitate to come out and say it. At the same time, they're not shy about expressing gratitude or appreciation for employees who do their jobs well. They're always there to share their thoughts on a matter, toss in their opinion or two cents, and encourage, motivate and inspire their team.

5. Openness

Authentic leaders are open. This means that, not only are they able to clearly communicate and effectively articulate their feedback with their employees, clients and customers, but they're also open to hearing feedback. They can take constructive criticism — and they don't just hear it out; they'll make an effort to constantly evolve and improve and advance to become better leaders.

The difficulty in achieving authentic leadership.

While authentic leadership is, of course, ideal, it's not necessarily easy to achieve. Being totally candid, truthful, sincere, forthright and open all the time isn't as simple as it sounds.

Sometimes, being too honest with clients and customers, for example, can deter them. If you know that there are better services or products out there for them, being honest about that will lose you clients and customers, for example.

Likewise, if you know that the company is a sinking ship, it might not be in your best interest to tell your employees that. You don't want to scare your employees into looking for jobs elsewhere — and you also don't want them to feel unmotivated or discouraged from doing their jobs well if they don't see a positive end game anyway.

It's also not easy to be sincere in your words all the time because, while you might mean what you say at the time, opinions and thoughts can change. You might not also be able to always uphold the same standards because, frankly, life happens. If you're always talking about the importance of reliability and, one day, you fall sick or you have to care for your sick child, you won't necessarily be available. While that doesn't make you insincere, it does make it difficult to stay true to your words at all times.

While being an authentic leader is tough, it's important to do your best to be an authentic leader, nonetheless. The aforementioned qualities always outweigh the cons of authentic leadership. For example, being honest with your customers and clients about better products or services for them may lose you their business, but it'll help you to establish rapport with them, which can gain you business in the long run.

Likewise, so long as your sincere about your expectations for employees but understanding that life happens, your employees will have the same respect for you.

What is the authentic leadership questionnaire?

The authentic leadership questionnaire is a questionnaire that evaluates how authentic of a leader you are. Simply put, it's designed in order to measure the various components that comprise authentic leadership.

In order to measure these components, the authentic leadership questionnaire asks you about:

  • Your self-awareness: To what degree you are aware of your own weaknesses, strengths, limitations and opportunities, as well as how others view you and your weaknesses, strengths, limitations and opportunities.
  • Your transparency: To what degree you're open with others about your ideas, feedback, thoughts, opinions and more.
  • Your morals and ethics: To what degree you set a high standard for moral and ethical conduct — and to what degree you abide by those standards for moral and ethical conduct.

The authentic leadership questionnaire asks you to assess the listed statements like "I seek feedback as a way of understanding who I really am as a person," "I admit my mistakes to others" and "I listen very carefully to the ideas of others before making decisions." You're asked to rate how much you agree with each statement on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). If you rate it 2, that means you disagree, 3 means that you're neutral and 4 means that you agree.

You can find authentic leadership questionnaires online! Here's one to get you started on self-assessing your leadership style.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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