Authentic Leadership
Seven characteristics for recognising genuine leaders

Kristin Robertson has come up with a way of looking at authentic leadership. Authentic leaders are genuine and real, as opposed to fake or phony. We tend to vote for and follow those that we believe are authentic leaders and we tend to steer away from phony ones.

Before reading any further on this page, please try this brief exercise. Make two short lists, one of leaders who you consider to be authentic, genuine, real and one of the phonies. We'll come back to the two lists later.

So what are the characteristics of an authentic leader? According to Kristin they are :

  1. Awareness and development of personal strengths Authentic leaders know what they are good at and work to develop their skills and abilities, using all the development opportunities they can.
  2. Awareness and acknowledgement of personal weaknesses Authentic leaders recognise what they are not good at – or what they don’t enjoy - and, rather than wasting time on these, they find ways to get around this. For example they might delegate tasks requiring these to strengths to others.
  3. Values-based decision-making Authentic leaders allow their values to drive their decision-making, rather than expediency. Authentic leaders will make their values known to their followers so that their decisions can be judged by them.
  4. Integrity Authentic leaders act with integrity. They are trustworthy and reliable. They engender trust in others.
  5. Empathy and respect for others Authentic leaders show respect for others, recognises their differences and are empathetic to their needs and circumstances.
  6. Courage Authentic leaders stand up for what they believe in, for what they consider to be right. They are assertive in the way they express themselves, making their point without denying others the right to do the same.
  7. Emotional management Authentic leaders have the self-control needed to handle situations where emotions could take over. They tend to be responsive rather than reactive and use their beliefs and feelings in a productive manner.

I immediately liked this list when I first saw it. It accords with my beliefs in ethical leadership. Then I recognised that these seven characteristics relate very well with the Scout Law! I believe this is because they both reflect the underlying truth of what makes a leader a person that others will willingly follow.

Now go back to your two lists. First compare the people on the first list with the characteristics described above. Then repeat with the second list of leaders. Was there a real difference between the two lists of leaders? Did the first list measure up better than the second?

If so, you might consider this as further evidence of my point, that we inherently recognise the underlying truth of what makes a good leader.

As another exercise, ask yourself what you can learn from the leadership behaviours of those on your first list, the ones that you respect as authentic leaders.

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