The world has seen exceptional leaders through the ages. Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many more. 

Each of these leaders awed the world with her or his powerful charisma and bold vision. They mobilized the masses, led revolutions, and truly changed the world. 

When you think of their leadership, the first thing that springs to mind is their charismatic persona. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s another secret to their success: they were masters of “authentic leadership”.

What does authentic leadership mean?

Authentic leadership is an expression of who we really are as leaders, not who we are expected to be. Let’s look at some traits of authentic leaders. At the core, they have a stable and coherent sense of self. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Authentic leaders pursue their goals because they align with their beliefs and values. They don’t strictly conform to external expectations and tweak an existing leadership style to make it their own. But they always put the goals of an organization ahead of their self-interest.

They lead from the heart and have greater emotional intelligence to make big decisions that impact their organizations over the long-term. That’s why authentic leadership becomes so crucial. 

Researchers at the Institute of Leadership and Organization at the Munich School of Management found that authentic leaders experience less stress and more work engagement that contribute to greater overall well-being. Well-being is a prerequisite to guide others and make decisions impactfully.

Apart from decision-making, leaders play an important role in fostering growth and development in others. Studies by researchers at the University of Western Ontario and researchers in Portugal consistently suggest that authentic leaders provide more opportunities to help others discover new skills and foster creativity. They facilitate autonomy, self-efficacy and work satisfaction in their employees. 

How to cultivate authentic leadership

Here are some steps you can take to become an authentic leader:

  1. The first step is cultivating deep self-awareness. Harappa’s Interpreting Self course can help develop a deeper understanding of yourself. Other ways of cultivating self-awareness are seeking feedback from colleagues or those in your networks, reflecting and journaling on behaviors and motivations regularly, and working with a leadership coach to dig deeper into who you are.

  1. The next key step is constructing a cohesive life story. You can do this with the help of a leadership coach or mentor. This step is crucial in consolidating and integrating your identity. A strong identity or sense of self influences your leadership. But the self is constantly evolving. Therefore, practicing a growth mindset and constantly updating your life story as you learn and experience new things is essential.

  1. Finally, a big part of evolving as an authentic leader is to engage deeply in your passions and interests outside of work. This helps reinforce and strengthen your identities and values that will help you stay true to yourself at work.

In today’s rapidly changing landscape, technical agility is no longer enough. Authentic leaders bring more value to the table with their stronger decision-making and people skills. 

They build more agile organizations because they are better equipped to help overcome challenges and improve overall efficacy. While the benefits are enticing, developing authentic leadership takes time and effort. It requires embarking on a journey that involves tireless reflection and resilience. And the first step is summed up best by Socrates: “Know thyself.”


Explore blogs on topics such as emotional intelligence, examples of emotional intelligence, and the components of emotional intelligence in our Harappa Diaries section and take charge of your growth.


Priyamvada Dalmia is a Positive Psychology expert.

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