Authentic leadership – the future leadership style?


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Most leadership theory is written by men for men. Thousands and thousands of leadership and management books fill shelves in libraries and bookshop around the world. Some are more appealing than others, but they have one common purpose, to make us believe that their theory and their strategy will save your business, enhance your economy or make your organisation run more smoothly, and make the world go around.

While there are dozens of leadership theories competing for our attention, claiming that one is better and more relevant in today’s market than the other , the world has never experienced seen such a number of leadership crises that we see today.  The list is too long to mention them all, and it is often enough to read news or watch TV and your home is filled with the international leadership crises- be it Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic or Darfur, or the international financial crisis or corruption, which is undermining development and progress in a large number of countries around the world, or the exploitation of resources like minerals, gas and oil in countries which are known to have high corruption levels and weak governance structures and leadership.

I am not surprised though that there are so few female leaders in high level positions and leadership since very few women would like to live the same lives under the same pressure and conditions that most men do.  When that is said, I think it would be worthwhile to assess whether the world would have been easier

It is difficult to point to ONE successful living leader in public and private enterprises, if you do, somebody will always make a claim on the person and tell you the stories you have not yet heard!

I often wonder what we are missing in these times where there is so much knowledge, skills and experience around that could inform and help leaders to perform better, be more focused and exercise their leadership function more effectively?  Are we missing something, or have we lost something essential in our lives?  Are we performing in a role rather than being our true selves? It is true that leading is also about performing and that we step in and out of different roles as leaders all the time. But do we need to loose our inner values and norms to become world class leaders?

I do not think so and I would therefore like to introduce you to another leadership theory, which is becoming more and more popular especially among female leaders, namely Authentic leadership.

Although the theory is becoming increasingly popular, literature on this topic is limited. The best known book on this theme was written by Bill George in 2003, while Sheryl Sandberg’s «Lean In» from 2013 also addresses some of it’s features. Robin Sharma is also one of the most popular writers and coaches who is promoting authentic leadership through his courses and individual sessions.

After researching the topic and assessed how it well it would apply to women’s leadership, Half the World is promoting Authentic Leadership to women who want to pursue a career in  leadership or improve  their leadership practices.

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We believe that the times of old fashioned male authoritative leadership styles are gone and that there is a need for a leadership style that promotes what is also appreciating feminine values and promotes women as they are; honest, genuine and attentive to the challenges they meet.

Authentic leadership is without doubt also a leadership theory, which can help men understand and lead women in a better way and also find their own way to become better leaders. While Half the World emphasizes this as a female leadership style, it should therefore also be of interest to our male counterparts.

Many leadership experts promote authentic leadership directly and indirectly and often links it to transformational and inspirational/motivational leadership theory. This is good since authentic leadership promotes transformation and motivates change with leaders and individuals.

What distinguishes authentic leadership from other leadership theory is that it is about being your true self also when you are trusted with leadership responsibilities. So what is it and who is practiced?

Since there has already been quite a lot of research in this area, I will introduce you to a set of guding principles,which have been developed by Holden Leadership Centre at the University of Oregon,USA, for what authentic leaders do;

  1. They speak their truth. In business today, we frequently ‘swallow our truth’. We say things to please others and to look good in front of The Crowd. Authentic leaders are different. They consistently talk truth. They would never betray themselves by using words that are not aligned with who they are. This does not give anyone a license to say things that are hurtful to people. Speaking truth is simply about being clear, being honest and being authentic.
  2. They lead from the heart. Business is about people. Leadership is about people. The best leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves and are not afraid to show their vulnerability. They genuinely care about other people and spend their days developing the people around them. They are like the sun: the sun gives away all it has to the plants and the trees. But in return, the plants and the trees always grow toward the sun.
  3. They have rich moral fiber. Who you are speaks far more loudly than anything you could ever say. Strength of character is true power – and people can feel it a mile away. Authentic leaders work on their character. They walk their talk and are aligned with their core values. They are noble and good. And in doing so, people trust, respect and listen to them.
  4. They are courageous. It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd. It takes a lot of courage to be a visionary. It takes a lot of inner strength to do what you think is right even though it may not be easy. We live in a world where so many people walk the path of least resistance. Authentic leadership is all about taking the road less traveled and doing, not what is easy, but what is right.
  5. They build teams and create communities. One of the primary things that people are looking for in their work experience is a sense of community. In the old days, we got our community from where we lived. We would have block parties and street picnics. In the new age of work, employees seek their sense of community and connection from the workplace. Authentic leaders create workplaces that foster human linkages and lasting friendships.
  6. They deepen themselves. The job of the leader is to go deep. Authentic leaders know themselves intimately. They nurture a strong self-relationship. They know their weaknesses and play to their strengths. And they always spend a lot of time transcending their fears.
  7. They are dreamers. Einstein said that, «Imagination is more important than knowledge.» It is from our imaginations that great things are born. Authentic leaders dare to dream impossible dreams. They see what everyone else sees and then dream up new possibilities. They spend a lot of time with their eyes closed creating blueprints and fantasies that lead to better products, better services, better workplaces and deeper value. How often do you close your eyes and dream?
  8. They care for themselves. Taking care of your physical dimension is a sign of self-respect. You can’t do great things at work if you don’t feel good. Authentic leaders eat well, exercise and care for the temples that are their bodies. They spend time in nature, drink plenty of water and get regular massages so that, physically, they are operating at planet-class levels of performance.
  9. They commit to excellence rather than perfection. No human being is perfect. Every single one of us is a work in progress. Authentic leaders commit themselves to excellence in everything that they do. They are constantly pushing the envelope and raising their standards. They do not seek perfection and have the wisdom to know the difference. What would your life look like if you raised your standards well beyond what anyone could ever imagine of you?
  10. They leave a legacy. To live in the hearts of the people around you is to never die. Success is wonderful but significance is even better. You were made to contribute and to leave a mark on the people around you. In failing to live from this frame of reference, you betray yourself. Authentic leaders are constantly building their legacies by adding deep value to everyone that they deal with and leaving the world a better place in the process. Source: Robin Sharma, author of ‘The Saint, The Surfer and The CEO’.

I am sure many of you will identify with the above principles and appreciate why Half the World claims that authentic leadership is a style that suits women best.

I would very much like to hear your comments and receive contributions and comments on this issue.

Please use the contact form and the email link to for this purpose.


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