What Makes a Leader? The Shared Traits of Authentic Leaders

what makes an authentic leader

Authentic leadership can show up in diverse ways. But no matter how it’s demonstrated, it's critical that leaders show up authentically to garner trust and true partnership. My father used to say, “When you are a true leader, people will follow—and you don’t have to say a word. Your actions say enough.”

I believe this is a result of how one shows up.

Truly authentic leadership is a cross between values and actions. Being able to lead with values is one of the most important qualities of authentic leaders. This goes beyond your job title or role responsibilities. Great leaders, whether or not they're responsible for managing others, aren’t passive and waiting to be led. Instead they lead, they inspire and they motivate everyone around them, including those with greater titles.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to leadership. It’s all about using your personality to its greatest effect while being mindful of how your team works best and the goals you wish to achieve.

When people can see your true, best self, there is a respect and confidence that creates a bond with individuals at all levels, those they lead, mentor—even peers. Take a look at the five must-have traits of authentic leaders.

1. Action-Oriented: What you see is what you get.

You know who you are and what you stand for. An authentic leader reflects constantly upon all of their decisions and actions. These leaders examine their own strengths and weaknesses without bias, and know exactly who they are and what they are about. They are able to put the mission and the goals of the organization ahead of their own self-interest. Because of this, these types of people lead with their authentic self, and are not afraid to be who they are. They show themselves openly and their values are known to others.

2. Compassionate: Not afraid to show heart.

An authentic leader shows heart, and leads in that manner. He or she is not afraid to dig deep, and empathize with the team members they lead. They don’t simply nod along and try to relate to their peers; they know what the other person is going through, which helps them be more relatable, in addition to being a compassionate leader. These leaders have and show courage and empathy, which only comes from listening to the heart.

3. Honest: Put their cards on the table.

Strength of character is essential for an authentic leader. Authentic leaders aren't afraid to express themselves honestly, to ask the difficult questions and take action based on what they hear. They don’t say things they don’t mean, and they earn respect because of this quality. People trust them easily.

4. Strategic Vision: Clear idea to company-wide success.

Authentic leaders lead with purpose and vision. They always add value to projects and people they interact with and help others realize their own potential. Authentic leaders push themselves as hard, if not harder, than they do others around them to raise the bar and deliver excellence.

5. Draws on Experience: The greatest education is a life lived.

These types of leaders recognize there is not a better teacher in life than life—and these leaders draw from lessons they've learned. They are happy to share successes (and willing to admit failures) and learn from every opportunity, which in turn allows their leadership skills to always grow and evolve.

Are you an authentic leader or looking to further develop your skills? You’ll want to check out our ultimate motivation checklist for leaders that will help drive your employees to higher levels of performance