5 Ways to Make Your Leadership More Authentic

Transform yourself from a typical boss to an authentic leader with a loyal following.
Grow into a stronger leader by making real connections with your employees. (Photo: Stock Rocket/Shutterstock)

Strong relationships with staff are at the core of success for a business owner. But to develop those connections, you need to be seen not as a boss, but as an authentic leader who can be trusted.

“Without any phoniness, authentic leaders get more done and help others more easily stick to the vision, mission and values of what their business is trying to accomplish,” said Roger Wolkoff, a business consultant who specializes in communication and team coaching in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here are five ways to enhance the authenticity of your leadership and drive your business mission forward.

Understand your values

To lead with authenticity, you must have a deep understanding of your own values, said Wolkoff. It gives you a strong foundation for decision-making, hiring practices and behavior in a professional environment.

“It should be clear through your actions what you value. That is where real integrity resides,” he said. “It’s leadership by example.”

So how do you figure out your core values? Start by thinking about your previous work experiences and what you’ve enjoyed most about them, said Wolkoff.

“Out of that, you can get general themes. For example, if someone said they always enjoyed work where the numbers had to be accurate, details are probably something they value. Or if the person loved networking, they may value helping others achieve success.”

Your personal values will be the driving force behind your development into a leader with integrity.

Related: 7 Small Businesses with Killer Value Propositions

Be true to yourself

Staff will see through a boss who’s using his position of authority to just prop himself up instead of propelling his mission and values forward. Authentic leaders should live in a transparent way that reflects their core beliefs, said Wolkoff.

Roger Wilcoff

“There is no faking leadership. People will quickly pick up on whether you are genuine or not.”      -Roger Wolkoff. (Photo: HN James, Punk Rock Photography)

“There is no faking leadership. People will quickly pick up on whether you are genuine or not,” he said. “It’s about executing everything with an air of confidence instead of cockiness.”

Think about the qualities you want to instill in your business, then take action, said Wolkoff. If collaboration is important to you, allow staff to work on teams and practice creative problem-solving. If you value diversity, put it into action in your hiring practices and vendor relationships, he added.

“You will garner trust, respect and credibility for being your true self with others,” he said. “They are more likely to listen and follow your lead.”

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Your values and leadership style may naturally evolve over time, but try to avoid frequent, abrupt changes, said Wolkoff. If your staff finds it difficult to pin down where you’re coming from, it could damage trust.

“People appreciate consistency. Staying the course with your core values sends the message to others that you’re the real deal,” he said.

Recognize others’ goals

Bosses who fail to invest in the goals of their staff won’t earn the loyalty they’ll need to take their business to the next level. To turn your employees into dedicated followers, prioritize their goals as highly as your own, advised Wolkoff.

Related: How to Identify and Grow Your Top-Performing Employees

“To be more authentic in your leadership, you need to listen and be empathetic. When others share their goals, their wants and needs, and their expectations, they are opening themselves up to you,” he said.

Keep the conversation about goals and expectations ongoing, with regular check-ins about how work fits into a person’s overall fulfillment, said Wolkoff. Then, make any necessary course corrections and cheer them on along the way.

“As a leader, this garners respect and shows you’re willing to invest in your people. It will breed loyalty, and your staff will reciprocate your efforts.”

Admit you don’t know everything

You’ll never have the answer to everything. But figuring out what you don’t know (and dedicating yourself to filling in the gaps) is essential to becoming an effective leader others trust, said Wolkoff.

“As leaders, we think we’re supposed to know it all, but that’s false. It takes courage to admit what you do not know, especially in front of others, but people will respect you for it.”


Everyone has weaknesses. Strong leaders seek out help in areas where they know they are lacking. (Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock)

If someone asks you a question you don’t have the answer to, respond with sincere curiosity and a promise to seek out the answer.

“That is authenticity. What you do after is what defines you as a leader,” said Wolkoff.

Related: How Bosses Can Improve Relationships With Employees

A great leader knows her strengths, then surrounds herself with people who are smarter than she is in the areas she’s lacking, said Wolkoff. She also builds trust by reading, asking questions and striving to learn from others.

“Be sure you give credit where credit is due, whether you cite information correctly or acknowledge others for their wisdom,” he added.

Grow a ‘can-do’ culture

Any business goal worth achieving will demand overcoming countless hurdles along the way. Staying positive and developing a “can-do” culture in the workplace will show staff that you believe in their abilities and in your business.

“Be willing to foster a positive work atmosphere,” said Wolkoff. “Blaming is easy. Solving takes effort. Encourage those around you to think about what they can do versus what [they] cannot do.”

Wolkoff recommended leaders look to an unlikely source — improv comedy — for inspiration in fostering a can-do culture. When comedians collaborate during improvisation, they think “Yes, and…” to acknowledge their teammates’ ideas and drive the scene forward. The same principle can be applied to a business setting to help grow positivity and creative-thinking.

“It’s a neat concept that continues the conversation, rather than stifling it. It requires thought, commitment, creativity and energy, and it’s the stuff small business owners want and need to focus on,” he said.

When your staff sees you as a leader who stays true to values, behaves consistently and invests in staff, they’ll dedicate themselves to driving your business forward.

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