Leaders cannot be adequately described by lists of traits or characteristics. Academics have struggled with this for years. Then, in 2003, Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, challenged a new generation to lead authentically.

This opens up a whole new dimension to consider when developing leaders. It’s not so much leaders’ traits or skills, but how they apply their individual and unique talents to leading others.

Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently, and lead with both their hearts and heads. They establish long-term, meaningful relationships and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are.

Authentic leadership requires a commitment to developing yourself. As with musicians and athletes, realizing your potential is a lifetime pursuit. Authentic leaders:

  • Frame their life stories in ways that allow them to see themselves as proactive individuals who develop self-awareness from their experiences. They know their stories and use them to teach others.
  • Act on this self-awareness by practicing their values and principles in action.
  • Are careful to balance their motivations so they’re driven by inner values as well as a desire for external rewards or recognition.
  • Keep a strong support team around them, ensuring they live integrated, grounded lives.

Frame Your Life Stories

“Leaders are defined by their unique life stories and the way they frame their stories to describe their passions and the purpose of their leadership,” notes George.

Many experts and books tell us that the journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding your life story, which provides a context for your experiences. Your story is powered by experiences that can help you inspire others and influence them to follow your lead.

That said, life stories are not always pretty. While most of us can reframe negative experiences in a positive light, authenticity requires us to face up to our mistakes and failures. An honest appraisal may prove uncomfortable, but it’s necessary for self-improvement. It also paves the way for authenticity and resilience.

Mistakes are inevitable, but learning from them is a choice. Authentic leaders continually examine their crucible moments and move forward, gaining strength along the way.

When the 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important area of leadership development, their answers were nearly unanimous: self-awareness.

What makes a leader feel authentic to you? In what ways can you become more authentic? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn.