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What is Authentic Leadership? | Video

What is Authentic Leadership? | Video

Authentic Leadership is a widely-used term. And one that is highly relevant to Project managers. So, what is Authentic Leadership?

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Authenticity is a constant theme in philosophy throughout history. So, it was inevitable that leadership thinkers would develop the idea, to give us Authentic Leadership.

The idea came from the US business-person and later academic, Bill George.

His book, ‘Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value‘ tried to re-set the needle on leadership styles following the failures of the boom and scandals like the Enron collapse. He followed it in 2008 by the even more successful ‘Discover Your True North: Becoming an Authentic Leader‘.

Why do We Need Authentic Leadership?

As always, one man said it best about authenticity:

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

This was the advice of Polonius to his son Laertes in Hamlet. Do I need to say more than Shakespeare?

Okay, I will. I’ll add that, too often, Leadership can be a mask, a veneer, or an act that leaders adopt. They behave as they feel leaders ought to behave, rather than as themselves. This can lead to visionary, charismatic leaders who quite simply fail. Or highly technocratic leaders who cannot inspire people to follow them when times get tough. Followers at some point see through the veil to the person underneath.

What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership is an approach to management and leadership that does away with the act. Leaders allow themselves to be genuine, and transparent. It’s their true self that they allow to be on show.

Self Awareness

To do this, an authentic leader must have a high level of self-awareness.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν
Which translates as Know Thyself

This is ancient Greek wisdom, but its value lives on. And, in authentic leadership, the leader must respect their own limitations, rather than plaster over them with deceit and bluff.

A leader who can do this is likely to inspire loyalty and trust in their staff. By displaying who they really are, as a person, and how they feel about their team’s performance, people can relate to them and see their leadership as legitimate. It turns out that authentic leadership is a strong predictor of employee motivation and job satisfaction.

Maintaining Authenticity

It’s no good ‘turning on’ the authenticity when you need it. That just becomes another sham. True authentic leadership is constant. And so must be the integrity and behaviours it requires. You must always be prepared to own up to your mistakes and shortcomings, and be courageous in your decisions.

The Aspects of Authentic Leadership

Different authors focus on different components of authentic leadership.  Here are the aspects that I think are the most important, in understanding how to build your own authentic leadership style. Notice that these don’t tell you what to do. Rather, they aim to guide you in making your choices.

I’ll start with the fundamental component:

Why Should Anyone be Led by You

… and being true to yourself. More than that, you need to be prepared to put yourself on show and let your followers see who you really are.

I am very attracted to the phrase that Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones use in their excellent book ‘Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?‘ It’s my favourite book on authentic leadership…

Be yourself – more – with skill

Why Should Anyone be Led by You? introduced a mass business audience to the concept of Authentic Leadership. Their articulation struck a chord. It came at the right time and was delivered compellingly. Goffee and Jones argued that companies are led in far too much of a technocratic way, by people acting as managers and bureaucrats. They lack sufficient human connection with their people, and self-awareness about their shortcomings.

Real leaders, they argued, are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are not afraid to put that on show and constantly act with integrity in the way that they live the values they espouse. 

But they can also communicate well, and remain true to themselves, whilst still coping with and adapting to rapidly changing events. Consequently, they can inspire people to extraordinary levels of commitment.

Other aspects of Authentic Leadership

How you use your Power

Here, I’m referring to the different types of power we have in the workplace; our ‘Power Bases’. It’s easy to pull rank with hierarchical power, or coerce, or promise incentives. But an authentic leader will only aim to use their true personal power to influence others. That is, the power that derives from their character, experience, personality, and authenticity.

Showing your Emotions

Transparency also means letting people see how you really feel. I don’t mean wearing your heart on your sleeve. And neither is this license to get angry and abusive, with the excuse that ‘this is just who I am’. But people need to know that you care – and what, precisely, you care about. Some authors refer to this as leading with or from the heart.

Balanced Decision-making

This is less about the decisions you make and more about how you make them. It’s about avoiding foolish binary choices and allowing yourself to consider the subtleties of complex and ambiguous situations. Let others contribute to your decision process. And always aim to make decisions that are fair and just. Finally, in the spirit of transparency, be as open as the situation allow, about what you have decided, and how you made your decision.

Sustainable Leadership

In the current environment, a lot of commentators are also focusing on the need for a long-term perspective. Your choices need to be weighted towards sustainable outcomes and the long-term needs of your community, rather than by short-term expediency.

The Bigger Picture

Alongside the long-term view is the wider view. You need to know what matters and be led by those values in your day-to-day actions. This often means putting people first, ahead of rules and policies. But the organization’s long-term future is also important, so there must be limits on the rules and policies you are prepared to challenge. Authentic leadership is a delicate balancing act.


Authentic leaders learn best by seeking out all manner of feedback. And they don’t just receive it, but reflect deeply upon it, to properly learn from their experiences.

Ethics and Integrity

Let’s end with the most important thing. You absolutely need the moral compass to know and do what is right.

The Right Thing to Do…

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.

‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.

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What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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