Personal Development

7 Habits of Highly Authentic Leaders

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"I realized I was more convincing to myself and to the people who were listening when I actually said what I thought, versus what I thought people wanted to hear me say."    ~ Ursula Burns ~

In the last number of years, there seems to be quite a lot of media attention on bad leaders.   We hear a great deal about the ones who are corrupt, egotistical and motivated solely by their own gain and self-aggrandizement. Stories of employee disengagement, bullying by management and other articles around failures of leadership appear frequently. Despite our seemingly endless desire to hear about the bad leadership, most great leaders quietly giving their best for organizations and society. While not drawing attention to themselves and their achievements, these leaders are making a real positive difference with their staff, organizations and society.

leaderHere are the 7 habits that authentic leaders continuously cultivate:

See Their Role as a Privilege and Responsibility, Not a Right

Authentic leaders see their role as one of responsibility for bringing out the best in others and doing what is best for the organization within the context of serving their community. They resist entitlement and seeing themselves as special people ordained with special powers and privileges. While others give in to the urge to use their power, authentic leaders are in the habit of making themselves constantly aware of the responsibilities their position's place them in. They are truly grateful for the chance to serve others and are always looking for ways to help others advance.

Develop Their Courage and Self-Confidence

Doing what is right, rather than what is popular, takes courage and a belief in oneself and one's abilities.   Authentic leaders know that their decisions will not always be popular and they will be required at times to stand up and defend their beliefs and decisions. They are prepared to do this, believing it is more important to do what is right rather than what is easiest or the most popular. While they face fears and self-doubt like everyone else, they understand the need to push past them in order to grow.

Show Their True Self to Everyone

The reason genuine leaders earn trust and respect is that everyone around them knows that what you see is what you get. The janitor is treated with the same respect as those they are doing business with and those that they report to. Their wives, husbands, families and friends see the same person as do all the people they work with.   They are comfortable in their own skin and see no need for feigning or ego stroking.

Acknowledge Their Imperfections and Mistakes

Genuine leaders see others as struggling humans trying to do their best and are willing to give themselves leeway in their own journey of life. They are willing to admit their mistakes and are willing to accept they will never be perfect. Their aim to learn from their mistakes, take the lessons and move on.   Those who report to genuine leaders will be more confident in pushing their own boundaries and making mistakes in the process.   Creativity and innovation will flow in an organization in which leaders are making and acknowledging their own mistakes and encourage their followers to do the same.

Develop Their Emotional Intelligence

The most important knowledge, of any leader, is self-awareness. Genuine leaders are continually growing and developing knowledge of themselves. They see this as essential for building stronger relationships with others and helping them reach their potential. Personal development is seen as a lifelong journey and developing the leadership in others is seen as being an important component of not only their leadership, but their life's work. Instead of avoiding challenges they look upon them as essential to their growth and development. They see every challenge as an opportunity to boost their own capabilities and growth opportunities, not only as leaders but as human beings.

Treat Others With Empathy and Respect

We all have preferences when dealing with others; some we like and others just seem to bring out the worst in us. Genuine leaders are aware enough to know when someone is pushing their triggers and attempt to treat everyone reasonably and respectfully. They make a real effort to treat everyone fairly regardless of their personal feelings towards them.   They are never beyond sincerely apologizing to anyone if they realize later that they have acted rudely or disrespectfully towards them.

Always Looking For Ways to Give Back

Whether it is flipping burgers at the company barbecue or coaching little league slow pitch, authentic leaders are the first ones to avail themselves to the service of their organization and community. They see themselves and their roles as part of the bigger picture and look for these opportunities to share their skills and knowledge with those around them.   While some might view this as a burden, genuine leaders see recompensing as a privilege and an opportunity to give back as a form of gratitude for what they have received in life.

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About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy