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Are Authentic Leaders (Always) Great Leaders?

Cheryl Maher By Cheryl Maher

Authentic leadership is a popular concept these days. But is just being authentic enough?

Look at HBO’s Entourage. Jeremy Piven’s character, Ari Gold, is certainly authentic. He’s upfront with his intentions, very transparent, and consistent in his actions. But isn’t he really just an authentic a-hole? Or to be more specific, isn’t he an authentically bad leader?

Instead of aspiring to be an authentic leader, why not just strive to be a good leader? After that, you can make sure you are true to who you are, how you act, and what you believe.

Here is my list of the top three characteristics effective and authentic leaders must embody:

1. A Desire to Serve:
A strong sense of service needs to be a part of a great leadership philosophy. And that desire to serve must be authentic. It can’t be fabricated, pretended, or forced. When you truly care and serve the greater goal—whether that goal is an admirable cause or a financial target—it shows, and you can lead by influence versus leading by command.

2. Self-Assurance (hold the ego):
Self-assurance isn’t just confidence in your abilities, but also a strong sense of who you are. To be a leader who can focus and lead toward a common goal, you must have a strong sense of yourself. You need to be someone who doesn’t need approval or recognition from others to reassure you. Truly self-assured leaders can function without ego. Instead, they’re focused not on proving their worth, but on demonstrating success as a team.

3. Future-focused optimism:
Leaders must have a vision, and they need to be outwardly optimistic that the vision is attainable. A focus on the future helps leaders avoid getting caught up in the short-term setbacks of today. It also helps leaders describe the future, inspiring those who may not have the same outlook, and energizing those who deal with the daily challenges of the mission. I say “future-focused optimism” because too much present-day optimism, or a rose-colored rearview mirror, may prevent leaders from learning from mistakes.

Yes, authentic leadership is a great concept. Let’s just make sure it’s backed up by the right characteristics. Seek out the inherent qualities that can define you as a great leader. Then work to strengthen them with a focus on the team’s success, not your own.