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The Big Five of Authentic Leadership

Smiling heart

In my last post, I dare posit that someone who is a bad leader is only masquerading as a leader, or one I call a ‘WANNABE’ leader.

It seems to me authentic leaders are hard to find, and there is no fixed formula for being a great leader. Books and blogs abound on the whole gamut of leadership. Most list a whole heap of qualities a leader is supposed to have. Experts say one’s success as a leader depends on the context of the leadership role. It’s obvious that one’s effectiveness as a leader depends on so many factors.

There are five essences, however, that a leader must possess to be considered authentic. If you have these, you have the indelible and invisible mark of an authentic or a potential leader—at least in my idealistic eyes.

Outside of these five essences are other skills and attributes that don’t have to be present in the first instance. In one’s journey as a leader, one’s effectiveness can develop, grow and improve over time. Or not.

Take Hosni Mubarak. Was he an authentic or a wannabe leader? He wasn’t an inauthentic leader because he got himself ousted in power, nor was he an authentic leader because he managed to stay in power for so long. Or take George W. Bush. He wasn’t an inauthentic leader because of his “Bushisms”, nor was he an authentic leader because he got himself elected for two full terms.

The two ex-presidents are so-called leaders because they didn’t have one or more of these essences. I list these intangible qualities with a few obvious examples:

The first essence: A leader has INTEGRITY.

Integrity is doing the right thing—legally, morally, ethically, fairly and justly—even when no one is looking. In other words, LIES, DECEIT, hypocrisy, half-truths, and bad and unethical behaviour are not an option.

Michael Hyatt, a Christian minister I discovered via Google, calls this the FOUNDATION of an authentic leader, and I agree.

A leader with strong personal integrity:

• is always truthful, transparent and will not hide behind bullshits, false promises, false excuses and false pretenses.
• chooses to do the right thing in whatever circumstances or its cost to himself or herself.
• will not backstab his or her way to the top.
• will not insult anyone’s intelligence by using false claims to achieve a selfish end.
• will not indulge in or spread malicious gossip, spread innuendos or unverifiable facts about anyone.
• will not undermine others, let alone his or her own people/staff.

I quote Leonard Roberts (not the actor) who says, “You cannot be a fake. You must stand up for what is right regardless. You cannot maintain your integrity 90 percent and be a leader. It’s got to be 100 percent.”

A person who is incorruptible has the first hallmark of a true leader.

The second essence: A leader has HEART.

If integrity is the foundation of an authentic leader, then the heart is the CORE, so says Michael Hyatt again.

What does it mean to have heart? I read somewhere that the heart of authentic leadership is an emotional process. I think it also has to do with being warm, kind, sincere and having compassion. Someone said a person with heart uses feelings intuitively.

A leader with heart:

• never forgets the humanity of their fellow beings.
• doesn’t play the blame game, nor any un-fun and dirty political games.
• is emotionally intelligent. In his The Soul of Leadership book, Deepak Chopra, describes this as working with positive emotions and dealing effectively with negative emotions.
• is optimistic and focuses on solutions and not problems, and then take positive action.
• is passionate about his or her cause, vision, goals and/or direction and shares them with those who have the right to know.
• has good communication skills. This person speaks from the heart and, at the same time, is a good/attentive listener. Deepak Chopra, describes a good listener as someone who doesn’t interrupt, criticise, argues or patronise.

In my opinion, a brilliant mind can only be complete if his or her mind thinks, analyses, judges with heart.

The third essence: A leader has a NURTURING INSTINCT.

Having a nurturing instinct is having the inclination, interest and willingness to provide the necessary conditions for a person’s talents and skills to grow and develop. And when I say nurture, I mean the lot!

A leader who nurtures:

• inspires, teaches, develops, motivates, trusts, helps, guides, empowers, encourages, engages, cultivates, boosts, persuades, supports and protects.
• sets high expectations and goals, and gives others the right push so they reach their full potential.
• help others overcome their weaknesses.
• doesn’t underestimate people.
• create more leaders, not followers.

Russell Palmer, author of the Ultimate Leadership: Winning Execution Strategies for Your Situation calls releasing human potential as the ultimate goal or the POINT of leadership.

The fourth essence: A leader has SELF-BELIEF.

Having self-belief is being sure of one’s own abilities, strengths, validity, value and worth, and has inner confidence. This self-belief is what creates the SOUL of leadership in a person, so says Earthi-Anne.

A leader with the right amount of self-belief:

• has no feeling of inferiority or sense of insecurity, and is not being cocky.
• keeps his ego in check and lose any sense of arrogance, smugness and false pride.
• doesn’t feel threatened or intimidated by his or her superiors (if any) and/or by smart or smarter subordinates. A genuine leader understands that everyone has his or her weaknesses and strengths; and that someone’s weakness(es) maybe his or her strength(s) and vice versa, and that they can complement each other.
• gives credit to where it’s due; can say no to his or her superiors, if it’s warranted.
• doesn’t feel the need to butter up to their bosses and doesn’t encourage others to butter up to them.

A person who recognises their intrinsic worth as a human being has enough self-belief.

The fifth essence… A leader has BALLS.

If integrity is the foundation, the heart is the core, nurturing is the point and self-belief is the soul, then having balls is what gives you your IN-BUILT ARMOUR, Earthi-Anne dares say.

Call it guts, courage, spine, will, inner strength or mental toughness, a leader with balls:

• is not a bully. A leader doesn’t use fear, intimidation or aggression to get things done or to get what they want.
• is not a wimp and doesn’t balk at intimidators and aggressors.
• not afraid to admit to the truth or admit to their own mistakes.
• doesn’t shy away from giving their superiors or staff the true picture.
• sometimes takes the heat if necessary or when things go wrong, as things sometimes do.
• is not afraid to apologise nor is afraid of people making mistakes. A leader recognises human beings are capable of making mistakes and no one is perfect. A leader understands unavoidable mistakes, just like life’s lessons, are opportunities to learn and grow.

A leader’s mental toughness is what shields himself or herself from self-doubt, detractors, naysayers, critics or enemies.

* * *

I mentioned in my last post that there is one characteristic that is important in a leader. A leader with—yes, you guessed it—a SENSE OF HUMOUR, is the icing on an already rich and filling cake. Imagine a very competent, strong, highly-intelligent, kind and compassionate, and courageous leader but someone who is dull serious and has no sense of humour?? Arrrrggghhhh!! It would make extremely dull what would otherwise be an idyllic work life with an authentic leader.

A leader who knows how and when to use good humour can make our life fun, enjoyable and stress-free — one would hope!

There you have it, my five must-haves: the foundation, the core, the point, the soul and the in-built armour of authentic leadership. PLUS that one teeny, weeny, super extra-special quality or characteristic that I’m trying to force into my self-made wish list. 😀

Cast your eyes over our past and present world leaders and leaders where you work and play. Do any of them have the mark of a true leader? Do YOU have the mark of a true leader? Stand up, be recognised, LEAD and SERVE!! Your team, school, organisation, country—and the world—needs you! I NEEEEED YOU!!

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on authentic leadership but I have a keen interest in this topic, as well as in personal leadership.


The Mark of an Authentic Leader

Heart image from

Don’t you wish we could see through each person professing to be a leader?

Throughout our history, often unknowingly, we’ve allowed liars, thieves, cheaters, wimps, abusers of power and unscrupulous people to rule.

If it was only possible to discern who are authentic before we vote certain politicians into power, or before we place our trust on certain people and let them lead us, our world would certainly be a much better place. People who we vote to put in government, some people we put on pedestals and some of those who lead us at work betray our trust and expectations.

We’ve been victims of spin, propaganda, misinformation, manipulation, deception and treachery by our so-called leaders. They are so-called leaders because they are NOT authentic leaders. I’m beginning to think, though this is just my opinion, there are no good or bad leaders. Good leaders are authentic leaders. Bad leaders are only wannabes.

I acknowledge being a leader, a genuine leader, is not easy. Leading—be it a country, an organisation, a committee, a large group or a small team—is a tremendous responsibility. It’s hard work! Would-be leaders who want to lodge themselves in power, or current leaders who want to hold on to their position should do what they professed to do, and do what they were voted or hired to do. As the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat – get out of the kitchen, for those who easily crack under the pressure.

I’ve certainly worked with and for wonderful leaders. I know authentic leaders are out there fulfilling roles that are rightfully theirs and some potential authentic leaders waiting in the wings. However, we also know there are crackpots, unethical or clueless people who, due to misrepresentation or, sometimes, luck, are currently in leadership roles who have no clue how to lead people in a genuine way.

Like the word love, leadership has no one, consistent definition. I’m still on the lookout for the best meaning as I haven’t found THE ONE. On the web, you’ll find that various meanings are attached to the word leadership, like position, roles, functions, styles, capabilities, principles, skills, characteristics, behaviours, qualities and essence.

Managing and leading, as you know, are two clearly different things. says “managers focus on work; leaders focus on people” and that “managers have subordinates; leaders have followers”.

Being a good manager doesn’t automatically mean being a good leader. A good leader isn’t just being a boss or being a manager. Being a boss is a status, and being a good manager can be taught. However, being an authentic leader, it seems to me, and contrary to common wisdom, is born, not made. Whatever is the truth, one thing cannot be disputed: you have to have certain qualities, or essences as I prefer to call them, to be bestowed the honour of being called an authentic leader.

Authentic leadership is described by a respected spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen as caring a lot about “a higher purpose, a higher principle, a higher goal that we are willing to make the most important sacrifices for the sake of what we are aspiring to accomplish. It means we care so passionately about others also reaching that goal that we unhesitatingly sacrifice our own peace of mind, comfort, and security in order for them to succeed.”

Leadership expert and author, Robin Sharma, says one can lead without a title. Joe Farcht, another author on leadership suggests building personal leadership precedes building organisational leadership. In my thinking, to be an organisational leader, you must first pass some tests. Once you pass and continue to embody the essences, then you receive the invisible stamp or mark of authentic leadership – the heart.

In my increasing quest to separate the wheat from the chaff of leaders, I hand-pick five essences of an authentic leader. I’ve only formed five because there is a set of traits “embedded” within each essence. If you’re missing any of these, I’d say learn or acquire them first, if it’s even possible, before you boldly attempt to take on a leadership role. I believe you don’t have to have leadership experience to be a successful leader. If you have the mark of a leader, then other essential qualities of a leader not embodied within these essences can be learned, acquired or honed before or while acting in your role.

I’d like to add that there is one extra and interesting characteristic that I have not included within the essences. If you have this or if you know how to use this, can not only help you but also those around you and those you lead. If used inappropriately, it could backfire, but if used effectively can help improve morale.

To be continued…

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on authentic leadership but I have a keen interest in this topic, as well as in personal leadership.