A successful leader needs to be, and do many things. When I think back to all the different leaders I’ve had, the best ones have all had one important thing in common: they’ve been authentic.  

The authentic leadership style is not new as such and has been gaining attention for its deep impact on employee engagement for quite some time now, with the concept exploding after Dr Brene’ Brown’s famous TED Talk on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ a number of moons ago. (If you haven't seen it—it's worth a look)

But what do we mean by authentic leadership?  What does it actually involve?  And how does it influence employees’ engagement and organisations’ success?

What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership is not just a 21st century buzzword; it's a fundamental shift in the way leaders approach their roles. At its core, authentic leadership emphasises self-awareness, transparency, empathy, and a genuine commitment to fostering an environment of trust and open communication. Authentic leaders lead with their true selves, acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn contributes to creating an atmosphere where employees feel safe to do the same. It is a modern and inclusive way of leading that allows you to show up as your most authentic self and lead from that place.

A catalyst for employee engagement

We know that employee engagement is the heartbeat of any successful organisation. Authentic leadership serves as a catalyst for engagement by establishing a culture where employees feel valued, heard, and understood. When leaders openly share their values, visions, and personal stories, it humanises them, erasing the traditional hierarchical divide. This, in turn, encourages employees to invest emotionally in their work, resulting in higher levels of job satisfaction and dedication. Authentic leaders are approachable, receptive to feedback, and genuinely interested in the growth and development of their team members. They don't just manage; they mentor, guiding employees towards their full potential. This level of investment fosters a sense of belonging and encourages employees to give their best, knowing that their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated.

The domino effect on retention

Considering how tight the labour market is currently in Aotearoa, we know that many employers are focused on how they can retain their talented people. Authentic leadership could play a crucial role in curbing unwanted turnover. As we all know, engaged employees who feel valued and supported are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Generally speaking, authentic leaders are likely to prioritise work-life balance, mental wellbeing, and personal growth. By acknowledging that employees have lives beyond the workplace, they create an environment that respects boundaries, and promotes a healthier integration of work and personal life. This, in turn, reduces burnout and increases retention rates.

The power of vulnerability

While the benefits of authentic leadership are undeniable in this day and age, it's important to acknowledge that this style of leadership requires a considerable degree of self-awareness, a willingness to grow, and perhaps most importantly, vulnerability. Dr. Brené Brown's defines authenticity as “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest.” Her research highlights just how significant the willingness to be vulnerable with others is to effective leadership. And this is far easier said than done! We often seek vulnerability in others, but it’s generally the last thing we’re willing to show ourselves.

Showing up as your authentic self and exposing both your strengths and weaknesses can be very uncomfortable. An authentic leader I had the privilege to work for had amazing strengths but attention to detail wasn’t one of them. She was very open about this and instead of apologising for it, she owned it and got me or someone else in our team to check her written work before it went out. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are!” (E.E Cummings). Authenticity definitely demands courage. It also makes you more relatable and trustworthy. An authentic leader doesn’t feel the need to always be the expert, they ask questions and ask for help, and when things don’t go to plan, they seek feedback, take ownership, and learn from it. Authentic leaders are of course not immune to making mistakes or facing challenges, but their transparency in admitting and learning from these experiences reinforces their credibility.

I think it’s fair to say that the world needs more authentic leaders. Leaders who can be confident in their mission, embracing their strengths AND their weaknesses. Leaders who genuinely work on becoming better versions of themselves, and who by doing this create a culture of openness, trust, and empathy, and empower their people to thrive, resulting in more connected, engaged, inclusive and loyal teams.

Regardless of the position you hold (authenticity is not just for people in leadership roles!), does how you’re showing up reflect who you truly are?  If not, what are some steps you can take to become more authentic?

Questions or thoughts on this topic? We'd love to hear from you. Call us on +64 9 300 7224 or email hello@thepeopleplace.co.nz