Quit Faking It! Great Leaders Are Authentic

Fake Leader

There is probably no worse leader than a fake leader.

Or a leader that tries to imitate a style they read about in a book.

Or worse yet, the style of the previous leader at their organization. 

If you want to try out your acting skills, try them out at the community theater, not on your team.

Faux Leadership

Your team will, at some point, see right through you and you will at some point, get sick of acting.  This doesn’t mean you have to take on a “This is who I am and I’m not changing anything approach.”

And it isn’t an excuse for why you don’t need to learn anything anymore.  You still need to learn and grow within your role.

What is does mean, however, is quit trying to be something you are not.

  • Just because you read a book by Ken Blanchard, that doesn’t make you an excellent story-teller that can develop others through creative parables
  • Reading the latest and greatest Tony Robbins books doesn’t make you inspirational
  • And watching Oprah doesn’t mean you have a high EQ (Emotional Quotient)

Now that we know what being authentic is not, let’s talk about what makes a person authentic.

Being an Authentic Leader

An authentic leader first and foremost knows and accepts themselves without excuses.

  • They know their strengths and limitations
  • They understand their passion and they don’t try to stifle it in the spirit of acting professional
  • They are consistent in what they do
  • Their people have a clear understanding of who they are and what they believe

I love reading the stories about Steve Jobs because although everyone who ever worked for him agreed that he was a bit of a jerk, they all understood his passion and beliefs about the products being developed.  He was comfortable in his own skin. And although he had plenty of opportunity for leadership development, nobody can question his authenticity.

Bill George, the author of Authentic Leadership and True North explains this concept so clearly.

 “I think that it is very straightforward. You have to be yourself. You have to be the genuine person and you have to recognize that ‘I’m a unique person and so I’m not trying to be like you. I’m trying to be who I am’.

But you have to develop yourself as a leader. And that is why we wrote True North, because my first book Authentic Leadership did not tell people how to develop themselves.

If you want to understand the purpose of your leadership, you have to gain a deep level of self-awareness. You can’t just, as we say at Harvard, “follow the herd” and everyone is going into this profession or that one. You have to decide what it is you want.”

Leadership Development

There are plenty of leadership books available that tell us how others approach leading.  Some are very direct and prescriptive.  I remember when Jack Welch and the GE Way came out and the number of organizations that jumped on the GE approach to leadership.

They tried to turn an approach that worked successfully for one leader into a cookie cutter system that all leaders could successfully implement.

Here’s a news flash – everyone isn’t Jack Welch. 

Consequently, those approaches, when implemented, resulted in frustration, fear, and poor decisions in some organizations.  There is no question that Jack Welch was an outstanding leader for GE and his approach worked well for the given time period, situation, and conditions.

But this doesn’t mean his approach works for all time periods, situations, and conditions.

Just Be…

Authenticity means being who you are and being okay with that person.

  • If you are an individual that tends to be a bit of a jerk with lots of passion for the product you create, capitalize on the passion and hire someone as a buffer between yourself and the masses.
  • If you have a soft heart and want to run the company with a softer, more empathetic approach but that isn’t getting the results you need, hire someone who can balance your approach and get results.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this isn’t a cop-out or an excuse to not learn and develop your leadership skills.  You are, after all, the leader.  You are responsible for setting the example and if you want a culture of continuous improvement you must be the first to improve.

Sometimes hiring someone with the skills you lack is a perfect way for you to learn while achieving results.

“First you will have to understand yourself, because the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself. Second, to be an effective leader, you must take responsibility for your own development.” ~ Bill George, True North

Maybe leaders have come under so much scrutiny in recent years to be something or someone they are not and in the process we have lost authenticity.

Let me be a reminder, you are good enough.

Being you is the only way you can truly be successful.  Instead of trying to imitate someone else, try this:

Be real.  Be authentic.  Be yourself.

So, what can you do this coming year to really understand who you are and what you really bring to the table? What can you do to find people in your organization who can complement your strengths and fill in your weaknesses? How can you work to be more of you, and less of what the next leadership book models for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

 Mari Peck is an Independent Consultant specializing in Leadership & OD
She helps leaders be their best & effectively implement organizational change

Image Sources: tommyland 

15 responses to “Quit Faking It! Great Leaders Are Authentic

  1. Great Article Mari!

    I recently came across Peter Demarst’s book and workshops on Neuro-Axiology. One of the main components is understand who you are and that there is nothing wrong… We are who we are… It focuses… my understanding… On authenticity.


    • Barry, thank you for your comment! I haven’t read that book. Can you tell me more about it?


      • Hi Mari!

        Here is their website: http://www.axiogenics.com/#

        This book gave me an “Ahhh ha moment” …

        Peter also has a LinkedIn group…

        I am interested to hear your thoughts.

        Stay Well!

        Barry 🙂


  2. True North offers an opportunity for anyone to transform their leadership path and become the authentic leader they were born to be.


  3. Hi Mari!

    Hmm it might take me some time… And I am pecking on my IPad at 11:30pm (SE Asia Time) … I have included a link to the site… Peter has a group in LinkedIn and I believe offers webnairs. I am impressed by the science behind the work as well, the potential for behavioral long lasting change (because it is based on values and the laws associated) … This is one book… That has really given me an “Ahhh ha moment (s)”…. Similarly to when I read Seven Habits by Steven Covey 20 years ago…. Stay Well!


  4. Mary, this was a wonderful article. Thanks for sharing it. Being as I am working on getting myself promoted up into leadership at Protection One and trying to find some good inspirational readings on a great leader this was a good start for me. Thank you!


    • Monica, be sure to bookmark this site as it will provide you a plethora of information from a variety of very talented and knowledgeable individuals.


  5. Nothing gets me going more than this topic. Thanks for making it so on point and concise.


  6. Great article! Very well written and dead on. There needs to be a lot more authentic leaders in the business world.


  7. Real leaders are contagious. People “catch” what they have. People are drawn to their vision and their values. They are able to gather a following and move people to act. To change metaphors, they are like human wave pools, creating a ripple effect wherever they go.


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