Authentic Leadership: From Aspiration to Practice


‘Authentic leadership’ is a relatively new concept in leadership development. It’s usually meant to emphasise the value of leaders ‘being themselves’ at work, instead of putting on a front and hiding their weaknesses.

Reconnecting with your natural strengths is the key to practising authentic leadership

This ideal may be a noble one, but it tends to be highly abstract and aspirational, without addressing how to put it into practice. Also, while the core attitudes it espouses – vulnerability and transparency – do hold some water, I want to put the cat among the pigeons here.

In my experience there are considerable risks when leaders step too far away from their essential role of modelling to others a high level of self-management and capacity. Putting it more bluntly, the organisation or its people don’t always benefit from knowing everything about the boss’s inner demons and shortcomings!

And so, I use the term ‘authentic leadership’ in a different way. For me, the context here is the common trap that leaders can fall into, particularly during times of complexity or challenge: thinking that they must master complicated leadership models or skillsets.

Of course, there are always useful new tricks to learn. But often striving hard to reach a ‘corporate’ ideal can lead to stress and exhaustion, or block clear thinking, and so is counter-productive.

It’s far better to lead others naturally, based on your own distinctive leadership style – trusting you’ve got what it takes, otherwise you wouldn’t have got where you are in the first place.

I’ve seen this many times in my work with leaders and teams: things run more smoothly when people play to their natural strengths and capacities, rather than focussing too heavily on areas for improvement.

The good news is that it’s possible to cultivate this approach to leadership – particularly when faced with a tough challenge – through a simple series of steps:Step 1: Identify blocks to carrying out your leadership role. The most effective approach for this is simply to bring into conscious awareness any limiting beliefs. Write them down. Examples might be “I’ve got too much on my plate to do anything properly” or “My team has lost trust in me.”

Step 2: Reconnect with natural capacities. What’s most effective here is to bring to mind past experiences of achievement, where you clearly demonstrated the necessary skills and capacities. It’s amazing how easily people lose touch with these at times of stress, yet how accessible they are when taking a few moments for conscious reflection. Again, write down some notes to bring things into full awareness.

Step 3: Draw out next steps. Start by listing the tasks you need to carry out to meet a leadership challenge or deliver a project (e.g. create project team, delegate tasks, etc.). Next, ask yourself what the experiences you recalled in step 2 point to about how best to go about this. The key here is to identify the conditions or resources that were in place then, which you could recreate now. Once this is clear, the next steps will become much clearer. Make sure these are specific and actionable.

I’ve seen many times how effective this simple process can be in getting senior leaders from feelings of overwhelm or inertia in the face of tough leadership challenges, to a place of renewed energy and belief – leading to clear and practicable next steps that successfully address the issue at hand.

About the Author

Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox

Tim Segaller is an executive coach and mindfulness trainer, specialising in helping leaders and teams to stay to resilient, inspired and connected in the face of complex pressures and demands. His distinctive mindfulness based approach enables people to cut through the layers of leadership and management theory and to access deeper resources of clarity, wellbeing and resolve for meeting tough challenges with ease and enjoyment. Tim’s key areas of expertise are mental resilience, authentic leadership and building strong relationships. He offers coaching programmes in leadership development, workplace resilience, team coaching & facilitation as well as executive and personal coaching.


Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.