Discovering Your Authentic Leadership: HBR Must Reads on Leadership Review #9

Authentic leadership is, just as it sounds, a model of leadership that is authentically based on your life experiences and story. Authors, George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer negate the traditional approach to leadership models which often purports a one-size-fits-all approach. “No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else.” The authentic leadership model allows leaders to emerge through their own life stories. Through the reflection and reframing of one’s life experiences, an individual can become more self-aware and understand who they are at their core. This can often lead to leaders becoming more humane and more vulnerable in a way that uncovers their leadership purpose and the key components of their authenticity.

“If Scholars produce a cookie-cutter leadership style, individuals would be forever trying to imitate it. They would make themselves into personae, not people, and others would see through them immediately.”George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer

Three are three core steps to becoming an authentic leader:

  1. Knowing your authentic self,
  2. Practicing your values and principles, and
  3. Balancing your intrinsic motivations.

The key to authentic leadership is in the maintenance of one’s authenticity. George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer also highlight the importance of building extraordinary support teams to help leaders stay on course and integrating one’s life such that leaders can maintain a sense of self no matter where they are.

Core Components of The Model of Authentic Leadership


“Authentic leaders recognize that leadership is not about their success or about getting loyal subordinates to follow them. They know the key to a successful organization is having empowered leaders at all levels, including those who have no direct reports. They not only inspire those around them, they empower those individuals to step up and lead.” George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer
Authenticity As The Foundation for Leadership

Authentic leadership is the core of quality leadership. If you are not being authentic, then what version of leadership are you offering? How could it be truly productive? How could it be sustainable? Being an authentic leader also addresses the nature versus nurture question around leadership. Answer: it’s both! Authentic leadership is about you AND your journey through life. The unfortunate reality is that we leverage the downside of authentic leadership all of the time when we focus on what unfortunate circumstances happened to us in life. We also talk about the situational moments of authentic leadership when we look at how we handled a particular moment of adversity (this is much like focusing on crucible moments, a concept that was discussed in The Crucibles of Leadership HBR article.  Authentic leadership is all of this, and more.

Authentic leadership happens to capture the fullness of one’s journey. Add a little bit of strengths-based leadership, and leaders can truly highlight a different story altogether that can fuel themselves and others forward, simply because of the power of positive stories from the people who lived them. So, why then is authentic leadership not widely touted as a model of leadership in pop culture? The truth is The Corporate Mindset would have people believe that 1) their story is not worth telling, 2) being authentic is a privilege for those who make it to the top, and 3) self-awareness is a soft skill. Of course, none of these are true.

The reality is that everyone is a leader with a story that is worth telling! Being authentic is how you make it to the real top; it is how you beat the game of life and not play the game of the corporate mindset. Self-awareness is the critical skill that underpins this and other leading models of leadership. In fact, it is often that which we cannot see in ourselves that we can’t see in others.

So, the takeaway here is simple, and if you’ve read almost anything else TandemSpring has ever put out, it’ll sound redundant, but focus on your strengths, live into them, and through that, understand yourself and your impact on the world.  Once you have that, let your freak flag fly high and proud, and success will find you.  This is the beauty of authentic leadership – you already are a great leader, you just may need to unbury it from the falsehoods you’ve picked up along the way.

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