Gary Zukav suggests that “Authentic power is the real deal, you can’t inherit it, buy it, or win it. You also can’t lose it. You don’t need to build your body, reputation, wealth, or charisma to get it” and the research seems to support the fact that being authentic is not only the right thing to do, but it could have significant benefits personally, professionally and for organisations. So what is it, does it add value and how do you unlock your own unique brand of authenticity?

Authenticity defined

The word authentic comes from the Greek word “authentikos” meaning “original, genuine, principal” and when you look at the many definitions two seem to sum up authenticity. Firstly “authenticity is about being true to one’s self” (Vannini, 2008) and secondly, it is “the successful alignment of one’s inner values, beliefs, and convictions with one’s behaviour” (Simons, 2002). Professor Bill George, an authentic leadership expert, explains “no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else, people trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not an imitation.”

Although seemingly straight forward, the definition assumes that you understand what your genuine self looks like and that you have an understanding of your values and beliefs. But here lies the problem, it’s very difficult to be consistently true to ‘one’s self’ when you haven’t yet explored or defined what ‘one’s self’ looks like. I propose some tips on how to tackle that later, but firstly how does authenticity play out from a leadership perspective?

Authentic leadership

Dr. Ben Palmer, an emotional intelligence expert, defines authenticity in an organisational context as being “about openly and effectively expressing oneself, honouring commitments and encouraging this behaviour in others. It involves honestly expressing specific feelings at work, such as happiness and frustration, providing feedback to colleagues about the way you feel, and sharing emotions at the right time, to the right degree and, to the right people.”. When you look at some of the key themes in the research, the following emerge as key characteristics of authentic leaders. They keep their promises, they are genuine, transparent, fair, consistent and have high levels of integrity. They can express themselves emotionally in appropriate ways, they are aware of their limitations and they develop and play to their strengths effectively. Their values underpin their decisions, they have an outward (unselfish) focus on their people and organisation, and they create climates that are optimistic and resilient. As Lance Secretan suggests, authentic leadership is “the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust”. But do authentic leaders add value?

Authentic value

Well, the research suggests that authentic leaders can improve work role performance and commitment (Leroy et al. 2012), resourcefulness and creativity (Suzete et al. 2016) and have a significant impact on overall team efficacy, potency and group performance (Xiong et al. 2014, Armenio, 2013). Hannes et al. (2015) also propose that the interplay between authentic leadership and authentic followership is positively related to follower satisfaction and work role performance. Other benefits include, an increase in a team’s discretional effort, with authentic leaders more ably promoting inclusive environments, that increase self-esteem and a willingness to go above and beyond the norm (Kenna et al. 2014). Bosch et al. (2013) found that authentic leadership accounted for as much as 11% of the variance in well-being and work outcomes versus control groups and Gallup found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperformed their peers by 147% in earnings per share, a significant opportunity when their studies also suggest that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged. So it seems authenticity for the individual and the organisation adds value, but how can you be more authentic?

Unlocking authenticity

Here are a few steps that could help you unlock your own unique brand of authenticity:

  1. Define and understand your Purpose, Goals and Values – you can’t be the ‘real deal’ unless you know who the ‘real you’ is and what you do, or don’t, stand for.
  2. Understand your strengths – as per my previous article on strengths development, your unique strengths are at the core of what motivates you and helps you be at your best.
  3. Build your Emotional Intelligence (EI) – self-awareness, self-management and awareness of others are cornerstones of EI, developing your ’emotional smarts’ is a great way of becoming more authentic.
  4. Get help – whether its your coach, mentor or an authentic leadership program, getting help will fast track the process and will no doubt improve the quality of the outcome.
  5. Be true to yourself – now that you’ve explored and defined what ‘one’s self’ looks like, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

If you’d like to learn more please contact Simeon Boseley via email, or go to for more information and articles.