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  • Writer's pictureKait Dinunzio

Authenticity as a Leader

au·then·tic·i·ty /ˌôTHenˈtisədē/


  1. the quality of being authentic.

au·then·tic /ôˈTHen(t)ik/


  1. of undisputed origin; genuine.


One of the things I find people struggle with is being authentic. (Thanks Social Media!!)

Leaders in particular struggle with this, and I believe this is linked directly to self-confidence; specifically, our ability to believe in ourselves and have strong relationships. We want to be seen as one thing - because we've seen others praised or heralded for it - and yet in a lot of instances, that thing we want to be seen for isn't really ... us. LinkedIn is the PERFECT example of people who are either really authentic or inauthentic - just troll your timeline for three or four mouse scrolls and you'll be able to peg those who are in either space.

(Side note: People measure authenticity through empathy. Empathetic people are able to "read" others, including their intent - the less empathetic our world becomes, the less authentic we become.. because we choose to accept a lesser standard of behaviour - Thanks Social Media!!)

My Managing Partner, Mike Donoghue, has a question that he likes to ask during leadership training: What came first - the Leader or the culture?

This is a tough question that I think leads into how authentically we present as a leader.

We all have ways we want to be perceived. We have big ideas we want people to value, subscribe to and buy into, but do we bring something authentic to the table when we join an organization? Or are we expected to simply fit into the culture and abandon our own authenticity?

People want to follow leaders that are REAL people. People who are relatable, who live and speak with conviction and belief in themselves and their ideas. They want to be able to connect with someone who is approachable and cares about the people in the trenches who are getting the work done.

I once worked with a very authentic Vice President - he was super easygoing and was the kind of guy who wore Keds to work with his suit every day. He took pulse surveys, he did routine All Hands calls, specific Operations focused calls, sent emails, demanded strong organizational change support for his teams - and yet, the message he consistently received back was that he was inauthentic and didn't care. He was doing everything he thought he needed to, and everything he thought was right - and let me tell you - the office staff who worked with him daily felt that authenticity. They knew how much he cared, they saw him defend the Operational staff in meetings or represent their needs - and yet - the people who he fiercely fought to give everything to, thought he was a total fraud and didn't care. He sincerely cared about his people, he spoke highly of his front line teams, but was three or four levels removed from them.

So how did this happen?!

Well, if I had to diagnose based on what I heard and experienced with his teams ...

His authenticity was lost in a lack of connection and personal vulnerability. His lack of field presence was felt deeply by his team; they wanted him at the front line with them more than once a year, they wanted to see him in the trenches, they wanted to have discussions with him - they wanted access. This is tough as a corporate leader - especially now - there are so many demands on your time as it is, forget the complexity of travel during a pandemic. The global troubles of the world in the current state have made things even more difficult - people's mental health continues to erode, we have divided mindsets and don't even get me started on the dumpster fire that we call social media. That said, I think had he made a point to attend each team's meeting once a month (digitally) to foster relationships and relay his own sense of authenticity, instead of someone doing it for him (Directors, Managers, Supervisors, Team Leads), he may have been more successful in connecting with his teams.

Connection is key when you think about being able to create vulnerability and ultimately showing the level of authenticity that you bring to the table as a leader. Great news - this is something that can be practiced and refined!

Here are some tips to help you be a more authentic leader:

  • Run the day, don't let the day run you - time management and prioritization is an art form - it's something that as a senior leader you must learn so you can engage with and support the magic that makes your organization revolve - the people.

  • Invest in people - provide opportunities for people to connect more personally with you.

  • Be honest - we can't talk about everything, but talk about the things you can.

  • Be an active listener - close the inbox, put your phone down, make eye contact .. Be present!

  • Do what you say you'll do - don't take something away if you can't or won't do something with it.

  • Manage your emotional regulation - be assertive, not aggressive.

  • Show courage - be okay saying no for the right reasons.

  • Follow your gut.

  • Respect others and expect it in return.

  • Reduce your self-orientation - think less about what serves you, and more about what serves others. Remember - without your team(s) you would have no reason to exist in your organization!!

Want to discuss your personal strategy for becoming more authentic as a leader? Want to bring more authenticity into your teams? Reach out - a call doesn't cost a thing!

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