How Authentic Leadership Energizes Employees and Strengthens Companies

Alex Bell

Inscribed above the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, dating back to Ancient Greece, is one of the most popular phrases in western philosophy:

“Know thyself.”

It also happens to be the first level of authentic leadership

The second level of authentic leadership is “being thyself,” or putting what you know and who you are into action. 

The Greeks came up with 4 cardinal virtues every person should follow to be authentic on an individual level:

  1. Prudence - seeing all possible courses of action
  2. Temperance - being emotionally balanced and mature
  3. Justice - being fair in your dealings with others
  4. Fortitude - courage to do the right thing

But in today’s post, we’ll show you the 4 components of authentic leadership for businesspeople, examples of authentic leadership in real companies, and how to become an authentic leader in your organization.

What Is Authentic Leadership?

Leadership in red and black
Authentic leadership is a mix of qualities and behaviors.


Authenticity in leadership has been shown to be the single strongest predictor of an employee's job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and workplace happiness.

Authentic leadership is best defined by the man who literally wrote the book on the subject. Here’s Bill George’s expanded definition of authentic leadership:

“Many people have natural leadership gifts, but they have to develop them fully to become outstanding leaders. Authentic leaders use their natural abilities, but they also recognize their shortcomings and work hard to overcome them. They lead with purpose, meaning, and values. They build enduring relationships with people. Others follow them because they know where they stand. They are consistent and self-disciplined. When their principles are tested, they refuse to compromise. Authentic leaders are dedicated to developing themselves because they know that becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.”

There’s a lot to glean from that quote. 

It’s clear that authentic leadership is not simply one thing, but a collection of many character traits and behaviors that reject the old style of leadership, one that was more interested in creating a persona - an image of a leader - rather than doing the difficult, transformative work that authentic leadership demands.

The leaders we’re talking about not only talk the talk, but they walk the walk. 

All the time. 

These men and women never take a break from being authentic because they’re simply being who they truly are. And they’re attempting to develop themselves into better leaders every day.

In the second book written by Bill George, True North, he develops the idea that leadership is a journey with the following 3 phases:

  • Phase 1: Prepare yourself for leadership.
  • Phase 2: Start leading by taking on new challenges until you reach the ‘peak’ of leadership.
  • Phase 3: Begin seeking opportunities to spread your leadership wisdom to others and give back to the community, even though the learning process continues.

You won’t wake up someday and *be* an authentic leader. 

You have to become one. 

Slowly.

But if you have the patience and fortitude to align your beliefs and actions, become a person of principle, and dedicate your life to personal growth…

You’ll rise the ranks of any company and uplift all those around you.

Why Does Authentic Leadership Matter?

Authentic leadership is certainly beneficial on a personal level, from more genuine relationships to living life with a purpose. 

But how does authentic leadership benefit a company?

For one thing, both workers and managers want to feel that what they do matters. They want their jobs to be meaningful. Fulfilling. 

And part of that is following someone they truly believe in. A leader who respects them, trusts them, and inspires confidence in them. 

When an authentic leader rises within an organization, morale typically increases. And with it come extraordinary results. 

Because when employees are working for a leader who respects and empowers them, they give their whole hearts and minds to the cause. 

On a practical level, they’re more likely to address problems and seek solutions.

Under a less authentic leader, they may be afraid to bring up issues for fear of embarrassing themselves or being punished. 

But an authentic leader encourages authenticity in those they lead. This results in more openness and stronger communication between everyone in the organization. That means more problems get solved faster instead of festering and growing worse.

Upon hearing all of this, you may question whether you can ever become an authentic leader. It seems daunting.

But the impressive qualities of authentic leaders are not gifts from birth.

You and everyone else have the potential for leading with authenticity. It requires following a set of carefully crafted principles.

The 4 Components of Authentic Leadership Theory

5 men in suits
Authentic leadership is a combination of 4 components.


The mysterious qualities of authentic leaders can be boiled down to 4 distinct components that comprise authentic leadership theory:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Relational transparency
  3. Balanced processing
  4. Internalized moral compass

We’ll look at each in more detail below.

Self-Awareness

“Know thyself” is just another way of saying self-awareness. And as we told you in the introduction, it’s the first step in being an authentic leader. 

You have to know your strengths, weaknesses, and values before presenting them to others and being able to draw out that information in those you lead. 

You’re not authentic if you’re unsure of who you are, what you’re capable of, and what you stand for. 

This is hard work. 

That’s why authentic leadership isn’t widespread despite companies yearning for it.

But to help you undertake this difficult journey of self-awareness, you should keep in mind the positive benefits of putting your strengths and weaknesses on display:

Your employees will trust you. 

Honesty about yourself proves that you’re not interested in playing games, hiding things, and being disingenuous. 

Relational Transparency

Relational transparency is self-awareness on display to your employees that we mentioned a bit in the last component of authentic leadership. 

It’s about being genuine, straightforward, and honest. 

No passive-aggressive comments or mealy-mouthed criticism. You have to be willing to provide candid constructive criticism. 

You may wonder, what happens when you’re busier giving critical comments than positive ones? Won’t this harm you as a leader?

The paradox of honesty, especially in business, and most definitely when it’s being delivered to uplift the person or people you’re addressing, is that they trust you to always tell them the truth and never hide your true feelings.

The big takeaway here is:

Display the behavior you wish to see in those you lead. If you don’t want your employees hiding important problems, then give them the same courtesy upfront.

Balanced Processing

Balanced processing means you’ll consider alternative viewpoints, other opinions, and outside-the-box solutions before making a final decision and pushing ahead with a plan. 

Authentic leaders aren’t narcissistic or self-aggrandizing. 

They recognize that they don’t know all the answers and need help from others. They seek out opposing views to find flaws in their thinking or course of action. 

And when they hear a legitimately good idea, they listen...and give credit where credit is due. 

An authentic leader can cultivate a company culture that makes employees feel safe to share their opinions - leveraging the minds of hundreds or thousands instead of solely relying on the handful of minds on the manager and c-suite level. 

Internalized Moral Compass

An internalized moral compass is all about doing the right thing, even when it’s difficult - putting the company and its employees ahead of yourself. 

This means knowing your values and practicing them. Maintaining your ethical integrity. And avoiding shortcuts. 

It also means not taking credit for other people’s good work…

And admitting when you produce bad results. 

On the ground level, it means leading by example. Doing some of the “grunt work” usually left to the lowest-paid employees. Or showing up at least 10 minutes earlier to meetings...after telling employees you’d like them to show up earlier as well. 

By being a “north star” of morality and ethical behavior, you naturally foster the same qualities in those around you.

How to Develop Authentic Leadership

Standing on arrow pointing ahead
Authentic leadership gathers employees around a common purpose.


Authentic leadership is a lifelong process. Sometimes it’s messy. Other times, it’s orderly. 

Below are some ways you can begin exercising your “authenticity muscle” and bring more of it into your leadership style. 

Explore Your Life Story

Your life stories shaped who you are today and who you will become. 

Too many people never examine important experiences from their past. If you don’t, you’ll completely fail to ever understand yourself, your motivations, and your reason for living. 

But if you investigate your own life story, you can bring more meaning to your life. You’ll discover why you fear certain things, why you love certain things, and peel back the onion of your existence to expose your true, authentic self. 

Reflect on Your Values

Take time every day to step away from the electronic device you’re reading this blog post on and all your other devices, for that matter. 

Turn off any other distractions and reflect on your day, your past, your future, and your values. 

This can take the form of meditation, mindfulness, or prayer. 

One recommendation is to use a journal to write down your feelings about how you’re living your life, where you’re going, whether or not you’re living up to your values and accomplishing your goals, professional and personal. 

The point is to silence the outside world and listen to your inner world. 

You may be surprised by what you hear.

Know Your Why

Figure out your purpose for waking up every day. 

It doesn’t have to be grandiose. You don’t have to be on a crusade to change the world. 

But it has to be a deeper motivation than money. 

Take Wal-Mart, for instance. 

The co-founder of the Purpose Institute, Haley Rushing, says, “When we did the purpose for Wal-Mart, for example, and when Sam Walton was asked about the legacy he hoped to leave with Wal-Mart, he said, ‘well, at the end of the day, I hope I could save people a little money so they could live a little better.’  We said, “that’s a pretty good purpose!  To save people money so they can live better.”

When you lead with a purpose, even one as simple as Sam Walton’s, you unite the rest of the team around a shared reason for engaging, improving, and committing to their work and the company.

In other words, you become a mission-driven organization.

An Essential Tool to Add to Your Authentic Leadership Toolbox

Meeting and speaking with many people throughout the day is a constant reality for authentic leaders. 

You often can’t meet with people in person. 

But decisions need to be made and you need to communicate them quickly and effectively. 

What you need is a tool that lets you record a video instead of holding a meeting; annotate screenshots with your feedback instead of scribbling notes on paper; and truly collaborate instead of miscommunicating. 

CloudApp allows you to do all of that and more. 

We’ve been ranked by G2 Crowd as one of the top sales enablement tools. 

Discover why CloudApp is an essential authentic leadership tool today.

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