The Art of Courageous Authentic Leadership


“As leaders and change makers, many of us are discovering ways of organizing and working that are more agile and creative, and that lead to new perspectives and solutions. This not only requires new tools, business models, and maps – it also requires greater levels of experimentation, co-creation, and risk-taking in the midst of forces that are often beyond our control. We are called to deepen our courage and resilience, and strengthen our connections to communities of learning, trust, and support.”

Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA)


As far back as 2007, an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Discovering Your Authentic Leadership’ underscored the need for a new kind of leader in the 21st century.
What is meant by leadership?

Leadership, as we know, isn’t a noun which labels a position of power, influence or static “I have arrived” moment. Leadership is about leading; and leading is a verb that describes the dynamic, ever-changing, fluid and flowing relationship between the person leading and those who are following. Leading isn’t about ‘doing to’ people, rather it’s about ‘being with’ people as you excite them to exceptional performance.


There’s only one thing worse than working for or with an artificial leader—being one yourself.

Matthew Painter


Matthew Painter, a Director of Leadership and Development in the UK, discusses falling into the trap of becoming, what he coins an, ‘artificial leader’. He determines that artificial leadership occurs if someone believes they’re a good leader, when in fact they are not.

Painter states some of the key traits of artificial leadership are rooted in an inflated sense of expertise and egoism. He continues by stating that it’s easy to be victimized by our own knowledge and experience when we let it alienate our colleagues, with the organization suffering as a result.


What is meant by leading authentically?


“When we are authentic, we do and say the things we actually believe.”

Simon Sinek, Author, ‘Start With Why’


In a Harvard Business Review article, George et al state all of us have the capacity to inspire and empower others. However, we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our own personal development and growth as leaders.

Four key characteristics of an individual who is leading authentically are: self-awareness, relational transparency, internalized ethical/moral perspective and balanced processing.

Source: Calinog C., (2012)


The paradox of authenticity

Leading authentically is not without it challenges. According to Herminia Ibarra in her 2015 Harvard Business Review article entitled ‘The Authenticity Paradox’, leaders struggle with authenticity for several reasons.

1. Although a clear sense of self is a great compass for navigating the choices we make in achieving goals, the same self-concept can act as an anchor when we want to make radical changes in the type of and way we work.

2. In today’s global organizational environment, the cultural norms that have contributed to our sense of self are not universally shared by others. It may seem we have to choose between being effective and what feels authentic.

3. In today’s social media-driven world, we have to carefully create an online persona that clashes with our private sense of self.

However, if we can successfully negotiate these paradoxes of authenticity, there is certainly value in being part of creating a culture of trust, integrity and transparency. While leading authentically, we aren’t only being true to ourselves; we invite others, by example, to do the same.


Who cares – why should we bother developing and honing our authentic leading skills?

Studies have shown there’s a correlation between empowerment, job satisfaction and job performance with authentic leadership.

There have been several studies evidencing that authentic leading positively influences follower commitment, engagement and job satisfaction (Avolio et al; Peus et al; Walumbwa et al to name a few).

Focusing on developing an authentic leading style is beneficial for enabling followers to be authentic; creating organizations that achieve climates of ethical, sustainable success.



Calinog C., (2012), The Story of My Life: Developing Authentic Leaders, Research Study

George W., Sims P., McLean A.N., Mayer David, Mayer Diana., (2007), Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, Harvard Business Review,

Goffee, R., Jones, G. Authentic Leadership: Excite others to exceptional performance, accessed 13/3/2015

Ibarra, H., (2015), The Authenticity Paradox, Harvard Business Review,

Leigh, J., (2014), Modelling suggests authentic leadership from managers influences structural empowerment, job satisfaction and self-rated performance among nurses, Evidence Based Nursing April 2014 | volume 17 | number 2, BMJ Publishing Group

Painter, M.J., (2014), Artificial Versus Authentic Leadership, T+D Journal, American Society for Training & D The Authenticity Paradox


Other Resources

Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Walumbwa, F. O., Luthans, F., & May, D. R. (2004), Unlocking the mask: A look at the process by which authentic leaders impact follower attitudes and behaviors, Leadership Quarterly, 15(6), 801–823.

Gardner, W. L., Avolio, B. J., Luthans, F., May, D. R., & Walumbwa, F. (2005), Can you see the real me? A self-based model of authentic leader and follower development, The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 343–372.

Peus, C., Wesche, J., Streicher, B., Braun, S., & Frey, D. (2012), Authentic Leadership: An Empirical Test of Its Antecedents, Consequences, and Mediating Mechanisms, Journal of Business Ethics, 107(3), 331–348.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008), Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure, Journal of Management, 34(1), 89–126



Igniting Your Passion Through Clarity of Purpose & Focused Action

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“I recently heard Ruth speak to an audience of over 400 at a motivational event.

She is a compelling story teller, she held the audience in a state of suspension between laughing at the humorous parts and wondering what would come next in the dramatic bits.

Her speech was an inspiration and an experience. Her style is comfortable, conversational and positively provocative.

She entertains and enlightens her listeners while making them think and encouraging them to take action.”

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Peter Wright

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