Historically we have the expectation that the ‘leader’ knows all and what is best for the team – that they are the epitome of knowledge and one to emulate greatness and be revered within an organisation. We have an expectation that they are strong, fearless and do not show weakness. But is this really the best way to lead?

Recent research over this decade has shown that teams are demanding more than that of leaders. We want authentic leadership, one that shows the person at the top as being vulnerable when needed, personable and ‘real’! A leader who is a relationship builder, displays high levels of honesty and integrity, and who is not afraid to show their authenticity. This includes knowing their strengths and how to use them each day, being truly focused on people with their words AND actions, and one who admits their mistakes with a clear plan to sort it out. Authentic leaders demonstrate how to take responsibility, be accountable for mistakes and then lead a way forward so that the team can identify with and respect the process alongside the outcome. We are no longer looking for unrealistic super-humans in our top roles who are more interested in protecting themselves with the pretence of being irreproachable - but value those who are creative, genuine people who set an example of realism and honesty.

The work of Brené Brown (international researcher in the area of courage and vulnerability) has greatly contributed to this understanding of the necessity of vulnerability as being an essential characteristic of leadership. She defines vulnerability as incorporating uncertainty, emotional exposure and the importance of being present - even when there are no guarantees of the outcome.
Being an authentic leader can elicit fear in a person who has worked hard at emulating stoic strength at all times. Authentic leadership does not mean that we are walkovers, allowing people to push our boundaries, demand that we work 24/7, or express our emotions all the time – definitely not – it means we are honest with ourselves and our teams, know and focus on our strengths and those of each of our team, are quick to display the truth in any situation, and take accountability for our own efforts. This includes owning up for activities and outcomes that don’t meet the mark rather than pointing the finger and ‘blaming’ others. This style of leadership can come at a cost – especially if the organisation we are working in is expecting ‘perfectionism’, which is obviously impossible amongst humans, however the benefits are great.

Research has identified many benefits to being a leader who is brave enough to show vulnerability. Yourself and staff are more engaged in their work, relationships flourish (which leads to happier and healthier teams), and this leads to increased productivity across the company. It is not at the expense of excellence though, but will positively impact on personal health (both mental and physical health) and the overall abilities of our companies to thrive.

If we stay in the comfort zone of pretence and ‘looking the part’ of strong, faultless leadership we are unlikely to achieve sustainable success. However when we step outside our comfortable and safe leadership behaviours or the protection of ‘looking perfect’ in order to; dare to do things differently, be creative, and take a risk – we open ourselves up to achieving things we never thought possible.

So how do we do this?

  • Spend time knowing what your strengths are (there are several methods for exploring these)
  • Identify a plan to use these every day in life, work and play (can take just 11 minutes a day!)
  • Identify how you will focus on the strengths of your colleagues within your organisation (and not just the problems/limitations)
  • Develop self-awareness of when you are experiencing emotions (there are effective ways to grow this)
  • Identify the impact this is having on yourself and the workplace (sometimes discussion with a third party is required to gain clarity)
  • Take responsibility for acknowledging these and working through these in an effective method for all concerned (i.e. not bottling them up, not ignoring them so they cause illness, not taking them out on others through blame)
  • Be honest (with yourself and others) and work within a framework and environment that aligns with your purpose, passion, and values.

So dare to be courageous, real and authentic. Be the person you are destined to be in all of your life, work and play activities. Reach for that authentic leadership practice that increases your engagement, health and productivity in all that you do. It is well worth the effort!

Elizabeth Pritchard PhD
© 2016


If you are struggling with any of these actions or want to know how to become a more authentic leader – we could work with you to achieve this.

Contact us at: Authentic Leadership Training Institute– Leadership and Performance Coaching Professionals
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Brown, B. (2013). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. Penguin, New York: United States.

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Craig, N., George, B., and Snook, S. (2015). The discover your true north fieldbook: A personal guide to finding your authentic leadership. Wiley & Sons, MA: United States.