The Pursuit of Authenticity

Three Ways to Be a More Authentic Leader
By Ron Price

Several weekends ago I stopped for coffee on my way to a leadership retreat, and the barista asked me if I was presenting that morning. I said yes and asked her how she knew. She said that her mother was a sponsor of one of our programs and had talked about me, so she was able to put two and two together. I considered what she might have thought if I had been grumpy or hadn’t been congruent with what I teach others. 

Leaders are much more exposed than most of us realize. To some extent, they are always on stage. Whether giving a presentation, attending a meeting, or simply getting their morning coffee, leaders are continually scrutinized by colleagues and constituents. This is why authenticity is such a critical part of being a complete leader. If you are genuinely yourself, you won’t have to put on a façade in different scenarios. 

Although there are many dimensions to being authentic, here are three key aspects of authenticity. 

Be real.
Being authentic is important because there really isn’t another option. When I work with Fortune 100 companies where the CEO is rarely in the hallways or interacting with employees in person, the employees still have a very accurate picture of their leader. No matter what you think you’re projecting, people see you for who you are, not just who you say you are.

The intrinsic idea behind authenticity is that it helps you focus on being the best version of you. I love the quote, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.” The reality is that every one of us is unique, and each of us has an individual path of development and self-actualization. Every leader has the ability to become world-class at being authentically who they are. 

Mother Theresa is an excellent example of this. In spite of the fact that she struggled with her faith, she had no struggle whatsoever with her purpose in life, which she knew was to serve the untouchables. Look at the influence she had! It wasn’t because of her title or because of money. It was because of the personal power of becoming an authentic leader.

Be courageous.
Being authentic means being the best version of you. It takes courage to explore what that means—and then to make the commitment of time, energy and resources to work toward it. 

A lot of us have self-limiting beliefs about what we are capable of becoming. When you decide to become authentic, it includes learning how to say no to everything that doesn’t take you in that direction. That can be intimidating; you can feel like you’re taking risks physically, emotionally, and financially in pursuit of authenticity. 

Being authentic is basically an audition—you’re going to get on stage, be the best version of you, and hope that you’re accepted. It’s really an understated pathway how much bravery it takes to make the commitment to be the best version of you. 

Be vulnerable.
The third piece of authenticity is vulnerability. It’s almost the other side of the coin from courage. Part of this is to recognize that as a leader you will never achieve full self-awareness without the help of other people. 

For example, I’ve never seen the back of my head. I’ve used a mirror, but that’s only a reflection of it. I’ve never really seen it. In much the same way, I rely on psychometric tools and other people to get a more well-rounded view of myself. We all have blind spots, and leaders can’t fulfill their greatest potential if they don’t let people around them become their mirrors.

This means getting feedback from others. Great leaders make others feel welcome to share candid feedback. You will benefit the most when people don’t feel like they have to be overly political, use flattery, or dress up their comments for the sake of the relationship. 

Capturing these three aspects of authenticity is an ongoing process. You have to make that commitment fresh every day by asking, “How can I be more authentic today than I was yesterday?” You’ll likely never get to the point where you decide that you don’t need to be any more authentic. Becoming a complete leader requires the never-ending pursuit of authenticity.