May 16, 2016 Authentic Leadership

I asked a few leaders about their concept of leadership.  Typical answers are:  it’s a position, role, job, or responsibility.  One rare response I heard is that “leadership is acting.”  You fill in a leadership position and you’re expected to act in a certain acceptable manner. To be effective as a President, you’ve got to look and sound Presidential.

Duterte and Trump

Their detractors may not like it, but Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump are presumptive winners in their separate quests for leadership posts in opposite parts of the world.  Their similarity doesn’t end there.

Both leaders don’t exactly fit the conservative mold of traditional leaders.  They make quick, binding statements that they later reverse or “clarify.”  A little more finesse in their deportment or language can improve their image, but they didn’t seem to bother about them during the campaign. Their followers saw a brighter future with them at the helm.  WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get.


From the time of the Greek philosophers, to the time of Shakespeare, and until Bill George wrote his book in 2003, people have been amazed at how authenticity became a revered trait of great leaders.  In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius said, “To thy own self be true.”

You’ve heard of different types and styles of leadership – benevolent, fierce, autocratic, tough-minded, failure-tolerant, participative, or servant leadership.  Starting in early 2000s, authentic leadership became part of the vocabulary of modern management art and science.

From a practical sense, if you were the follower, you wouldn’t be comfortable with a leader who wears different masks.  During office hours, your boss is a non-nonsense stickler to the rules, flagellating employees to produce the last ounce of productivity.  At five o’clock, he transforms before your eyes to an inveterate gambler, womanizer and drunkard.  Before the clock strikes 12, he’s a henpecked husband bringing midnight snacks for the wife and kids.

Authentic leadership

The term authentic leadership has had many meanings and slants, but many gurusagree that authentic leaders:

Are self-aware and genuine.  They’re aware of their own strengths, limitations, and emotions.  They’re not afraid to show their real self to their constituencies. They act consistently, whether in public or alone with their close friends. They don’t hide their mistakes, nor are they afraid that they will look weak because of past mistakes.

Are mission-driven and results-oriented.  They’re able to subordinate their personal interests to the bigger goals the organization.  They are passionate with what they do, and will follow through completion the results they seek to achieve, not for their own glory, power, money or ego, but for the genuine good of the organization and its constituents.

Lead with their heart.  They use both the heart and mind.  They’re not afraid to show emotions.  Like all humans, they have their own vulnerability.  They could cry when showing empathy to others.  This doesn’t mean they’re “soft.”  They just know how to connect with the people they lead.

Focus on the long term.  In Bill George’s model, authentic leaders are focused on the long-term.  They nurture organizations and people over the long term, and spend time and effort to ensure continuity of leadership and organizations.  They despise short-termism that can show current benefits and prefer large dividends for the people and the organization over extended periods.

In his book, Bill George deplored the way some CEOs were running large organizations.  He wrote,  “… integrity, stewardship and sound governance are deeper issues that must be addressed by leaders themselves.”  To build enduring organizations, George believes that leaders of the highest integrity must have the “courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and recognize the importance of their service to society.”


Authentic leaders have a genuine desire to serve others, empower the people they lead to make a difference, and are “guided by passion and compassion as they are by their logical minds.” George thinks that an authentic leader must develop his or her own leadership style “consistent with his or her personality and character.  The authenticity of the leader is more important than the style with which the leader leads.  To be authentic means to accept one’s faults and shortcomings, as well as to use one’s strengths in bringing the organization and the people to a better future.”

Simply put, authenticity is being genuine, not pretending to be someone else.  However, it doesn’t mean, “This is me.  I am bad, and I shall always be bad.  I am your leader, and you have to follow or else …”

On the other hand, it means, “I may not be perfect, but because I care for you and our group, I will improve myself where I am weak.  I will use my strengths to get us to where we all want to be.  I will not pretend to be what I am not.  Let’s help each other achieve our shared vision of a better future.”

Henna Inam said, “Authentic leadership is the full expression of ME for the benefit of WE.”

(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at

Article originally posted on on 5/15/16