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Are you an authentic leader?

Shirley Hulley
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'Authentic leadership'. We hear this phrase bandied around in the corporate space all the time. But what does it really mean in a leadership context?

Thankfully, the days are fast waning when business leaders believed that you had to have two personalities - a work persona and a home persona - and should never mix the two. This was always impossible as you couldn't help but have some spill-over as you only have one whole life. Inevitably, this caused people around them to pick up on the lack of congruence and ultimately question authenticity.

In the past, it was said that leadership required showmanship and was like 'acting'. It isn't surprising that those being led felt that leadership was wasn't genuine.

5 Attributes of authentic leadership

During my career, I've seen many types of leadership. However, I've consistently observed five qualities of authentic leadership. These are:

1. Self-awareness: Authentic leaders know and openly own their strengths, weaknesses and development areas.

2. Results focus: Authentic leaders pursue goals and results for the good of the organisation and not their own agendas.

3. Courageousness: Authentic leaders aren't afraid to show their own vulnerability, nor to surround themselves with people who might know more than they do.

4. They lead with heart: Clarity and directness is balanced with empathy.

5. Vision: Authentic leaders nurture and develop with long-term vision.

I'm often asked questions about authentic leadership in the course of my work

  • Can we BE authentic in a corporate space?

Granted, it's not simple. It's all too easy to go with the flow and absorb a 'culture' which is foreign to you. After a while, it'll stop feeling uncomfortable.

Having said that, if we're self-aware and clear in our own minds about what we stand for then we should be able to escape the corporate-cloning machine. If we shift our behavior to develop, are we being inauthentic?

As human beings, we're designed to evolve constantly. If we weren't, the species wouldn't have survived so far. It is all about what serves us best. If we have a development area that's hampering our ability to build good relationships, for instance, of course we should try to shift our behaviours. There's nothing wrong with becoming the greatest grandest version of yourself!

  • If human beings constantly evolve how can we know we're being authentic? To which version of ourselves are we being authentic?

Being authentic doesn't mean hanging on to our behaviours and saying: 'this is ME so accept it'. Be authentic to your current vision and the behaviours that serve you so that you can be a great human being.

  • How can we deal with being labelled as inauthentic if we don't match up others versions of what our authenticity should look like?

People do love to judge and label and sometimes no matter what you do, you'll attract criticism. Always remember to stop and listen a while, understand how you may be coming across. If it serves you to take this on board and make some alterations, do so. If doesn't resonate, then take it from where it comes and leave it at that.


After fifteen years of corporate general management, and a great deal of valuable experience gained in several high-level executive posts,  Shirley was driven by a desire to share and teach using transformational training models which would deliver impactful results in organisations.

In her role as a business coach and owner of Optimal Capacity, Shirley offers her clients programs designed to radically enhance the personal capacity of leadership teams and employees. She delivers game-changing business interventions that create profound behavioural shifts – resulting in easy efficiency, higher profits, and sustainable business growth.

In her role as head of operations for Lumina Learning Shirley qualifies and accredits new business and client practitioners in the use of the Lumina Learning suite of development tools and their application. She supports and develops the SA practitioner network.


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