5 Traits That Make Truly Authentic (and Enlightened) Leaders

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Feb 24, 2015

A leader’s success is largely incumbent on their capacity to influence other people.

And 21st century leadership is about creating relationships of integrity, authenticity and trust, as loyalty is now earned through relationships and collaboration, rather than through titular power.

Yet, forging deep, trusting business relationships is often awkward, unchartered territory for leaders. Many are wary of leading with emotion or operating with a genuine openness and honesty, believing that showing vulnerability will lead to dissenting opinions or criticism from colleagues and subordinates.

But momentum for more sincere interactions is building. Most of the world’s most admired organizations are taking a serious look at leaders’ authenticity and their ability to be true to values that attract and retain employees who can help the company innovate and grow.

The World Economic Forum has even weighed in on the topic in their executive program entitled Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century. Here are five (5) traits of truly authentic and enlightened leaders that have been adapted from their curriculum.

1. Surround yourself with advisors who challenge you

When we hold a certain belief or make a tentative decision, we tend to favor information supporting our belief/decision and discard contradicting data.

This is a fundamentally human foible known as confirmation bias, to which neither the brilliant nor the principled are impervious. But left unchecked, it can lead to negative consequences. Authentic leaders ask their advisors to seek out opposing evidence and empower them to “speak truth to power.”

2. Acknowledge your biases

Leaders need to be consciously on guard to ensure their biases (hidden or acknowledged) don’t take them in directions they don’t intend to go.

Eternal vigilance is a personal ideal that reduces the likelihood our unconscious prejudices will influence our actions. With this awareness, authentic leaders can take steps to counter the effects of their biases and stereotypical beliefs.

3. Admit your weaknesses; express vulnerability

As a leader, admitting to and even embracing weaknesses requires a certain degree of emotional acuity and inner strength.

Leadership is about empowering others, sometimes through expressing your own vulnerability to build sustainable leadership which will last beyond your time. Vulnerability and uncertainty can become useful tools of true, authentic leadership if congruent with your principles and beliefs.

4. Make your leadership last in your absence

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making it last in your absence.

This may well be the hallmark – and the legacy – of a truly authentic leader.

5. Use difficult times to find new purpose and strength

Every leader has periods in which they find themselves lacking clear direction. These periods offer opportunity for growth and development, likely leading you to becoming who you’re meant to be – your most authentic self.

Successful leaders use these times to learn new skills, forge new friendships and reinvent themselves. The more you can use the difficult times in your life to dig deep and find new purpose or strength, the more resilient you will become.

Striving for authenticity is the new model of success, and leaders who can translate their sincerity into shared value for their teams will have true and lasting impact.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on