How to Show Authentic Leadership

Whether new or senior, leaders often exert considerable effort searching for the most effective leadership style. Even if realized, these efforts are often fleeting, and the style doesn’t work for every situation. However, research indicates that these searches don’t need to go much further than looking right inside ourselves — and that all of us possess inherent leadership qualities just waiting to be discovered and improved upon. 

Bill George is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School who analyzed the findings of more than 1,000 leadership research studies and what he found was that nothing stood out as ideal when it came to leadership qualities. What George did conclude after conducting his own subsequent study is that truly effective leadership comes from leading authentically according to our own life stories.[i] 

At its core, George’s approach finds that authentic leaders have a strong sense of purpose and display consistency and self-discipline, knowing their values and acting on them. 

 Additionally, they develop trusting relationships and are sensitive and empathetic to the needs of others. George found that authentic leaders achieved better results by developing the characteristics of passion, behavior, connectedness, consistency, and compassion.[ii] The best news in George’s findings is that all of us possess the core ‘ingredients’ for authentic leadership and that we can become better through the discovery of and improvement upon the dimensions highlighted earlier. 

So, where do leaders start in order to discover and improve? 

 Research again points us to an effective process known as the Intentional Change Theory (ICT), developed by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor at Case Western Reserve University in the early 1970s.[iii] Dr. Boyatzis’ research pointed to five discoveries that lead us to growth and transformational change: 

 1. Ideal Self – Our purpose and what we want from life 

 2. Real Self – Who we are now and how others see us 

 3. Learning Agenda – Strengths we can focus on improving and some weaknesses to work on 

 4. Experimenting and Practicing New Habits – Validating our strengths 

 5. Close Personal Relationships – Those we need to help us change and grow 

 Whether leaders choose to journey toward authentic leadership alone or with the assistance of a coach, they can do so with confidence that the essential ingredients for authentic leadership already reside within them, and discovery and improvement upon these qualities using a process of intentional change can yield long-lasting and transformational results.   


 [ii] Northouse, P. (2019). Leadership: Theory and Practice (8th Edition). SAGE Publications, Inc. 

 [iii] Boyatzis, R. and McKee, A. (2006). Intentional Change. Journal of Organizational Excellence. Summer 2006, 49-60. DOI: 10.1002/joe

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