What is Authentic Leadership?

Written By Ann Ashley


Authentic Leadership

There is no secret formula to leadership, however research has shown that certain leadership qualities are universally effective. At the core of these qualities is one that takes a lifetime to master: authenticity. Many leaders put on a façade at work that is unsustainable, and are shocked when their employees are disengaged, unhappy, and spend their vacation time searching for another job.

Authenticity is the foundation for leadership success, but what is authentic leadership?

1. Authentic leaders have a core sense of self.

Authentic leaders are empowered to lead others because they know how to lead themselves. These individuals are masters of self – in fact, the Greek word “authento” means “to have full power.” In other words, authentic leaders are aware of their strengths, their emotions, and their limitations, and are not afraid to reveal their mistakes to others. In the words of Bill Cecil, Biltmore’s 4th generation CEO: “True leadership begins with a healthy understanding of oneself.  To be the best for your people, you must first seek to know who you are, what are your strengths and weaknesses, and then work relentlessly to be better every day.”

2. Authentic leaders guide with purpose, meaning, and values.

Authentic leaders are people of integrity. They understand that effective leadership begins with self-examination of their values and is reinforced by actions that are in alignment with those beliefs. When leaders base their decisions on a personal set of values, they are able to make and keep meaningful promises and commitments. Authentic leaders recognize that self-leadership is the foundation for leading others.

3. Authentic leaders are approachable and genuine.

Authentic leaders are slow to anger, and are willing to be transparent and open with their employees. This does not mean they are soft or weak, rather, they have the courage to approach situations with a balance of authority and empathy, empowering them to forgive mistakes. Authentic leaders are able to easily place themselves in someone else’s shoes when asking a favor, entering a coaching situation, or having a critical conversation with a colleague.

4. Authentic leaders are mission-driven and dedicated to long-term success.

They are leaders who look beyond short-term fixes and re-direct their teams toward the organizational vision in both smooth and rough times. Authentic leaders take more pride in the success of the company than their personal success, and are quick to encourage innovation and ideas amongst their employees.

5. Authentic leaders are lifelong learners.

Truly authentic leaders thrive on continual learning. It should come as no surprise that the most successful leaders read an average of fifty books per year. But learning does not come merely from written words – authentic leaders take time to travel, learning from other perspectives and industries, and applying best practices to their organizations. They also practice the art of intentional listening with their employees and peers. Authentic leaders are on an endless journey to self-actualization and empower those around them to join the journey. 

Put it into practice:

  1. Examine your leadership style for a moment. How many times in the past week have you shared a current personal or professional challenge you are facing with a colleague? 
  2. Think about a specific relationship, either with a direct report or peer, in which you feel there is conflict or lack of resolution. Invite them to lunch or coffee, then prepare for your conversation by inserting yourself into their shoes. Practice empathy by writing down explicitly how you think that person sees the situation. Then make a list from your own perspective, what results would constitute a win-win situation for you, based on your personal values.   

Take your leadership skills to the next level when you attend Biltmore's Authentic Leadership workshop. Explore workshops here.

Ann Ashley is Biltmore's Vice President of Talent & Organizational Development, strategically leading and cultivating Biltmore's learning culture.