, ,


When I ask people for characteristics that define a great leader, one that frequently emerges is authenticity. There is beauty and complexity in authenticity. Let’s explore the concept.

Exploring Authenticity

I invite you to pause for a moment and consider what authenticity means to you. Think of when you’ve shown up as your most authentic self. What mindset and actions supported this?

Think of times in your life when you felt inauthentic. Perhaps you felt inauthentic in how you related to another individual. You lacked sincerity, one of the core components of trust. You may have felt inauthentic about yourself and what you stand for.

Consider the people you have encountered who embody authenticity. What is it about their words and actions that demonstrate authenticity?

At times, I have taken authenticity for granted. I fold it into my core value of integrity. However, there was a time in my life when I experienced a period of inauthenticity that fundamentally shifted my awareness and reshaped my worldview profoundly.

My Authenticity Story

At a pivotal point in my career, I had a leader who offered helpful feedback. He felt I needed to be more assertive. The feedback resonates with me deeply to this day – the second time I took the StrengthsFinder assessment, it added harmony to my top strengths. As an executive, I struggled to accept harmony as a strength. It felt out of alignment with my role. It wasn’t until the third time I took the assessment years later and it popped up again that I finally grew to accept and embrace my gift for bringing harmony to conflict situations.

This leader was very assertive. To help me increase my assertiveness, he gave me homework. I was instructed to watch the movie Patton, starring George C. Scott. Then, I was to lead more like General Patton. In particular, he highlighted a scene where Patton takes a decisive (and horrifying) action to keep his army moving forward.* In hindsight, alarm bells should have been going off for me at this point.

I respected this leader and wanted to grow my assertiveness, and I dutifully followed this guidance. Using the Patton style, I adapted my leadership style to be more assertive.

It didn’t work. It felt inauthentic. I showed up to others as inauthentic. I was trying to adopt a persona that was out of alignment with my way of being. Perhaps with enough practice, I could have shifted my way of being to lead that way authentically, but I’m glad I didn’t. The feedback to increase my assertiveness was sound, but I needed to find a way to grow my assertiveness that aligned with my authentic self.

Ultimately, I left that role entirely. At the time, that move felt like a failure. Now, I look back and recognize that it was pivotal in my journey, which led to the coaching career I have today.


We all have multiple personas, and this begs the question: When I show up differently in different situations, am I being inauthentic?

In a prior post, I briefly touched on my Council of Joshes. The council members represent different personas, including Athlete Josh, Coach Josh, Leader Josh, Spirit Josh, and Josh Love. All of these personas feel authentic to me. I’m tapping into a natural aspect of my way of being in a particular environment. I recognize the interplay and collaboration between multiple personas in various situations.

Check-in with your intuition if you show up differently in different situations. Do you feel you are showing up as your authentic self in each situation? Or does a situation feel out of alignment?

I once spoke with a client who described going to work as “putting on a mask.” As she described it further, I believe she was embracing an aspect of her authentic self, recognizing that she shows up differently in the workplace than at home with her family. At the same time, I had an intuitive reaction to her choice of words.

A mask hides our authentic self from the world, enabling us to play a character. If you find yourself “putting on a mask” as you step into a situation, pause and reflect. Are you hiding some aspect of your authentic self, and if so, why?

A powerful tool for exploring this deeper is reconnecting with your values. Examine whether the situation aligns with each of your core values. Often, you will find that the root of an inauthentic experience is a conflict with one of your values.

Embracing Authenticity

How do I recognize when I am out of alignment with my authentic self? These days, I primarily rely on intuition. There is a felt sense of knowing I have, a spidey sense, if you will, that I’m not in alignment. When I sense this, I pause and reflect on the situation.

  • What’s the experience that is driving my thoughts or actions?
  • What am I saying or doing that feels out of alignment with my authentic self?
  • What is driving me to think or act this way?
  • How do I want to shift?

Leveraging intuition in this way taps into the right hemisphere of your brain to identify an authenticity gap on your own.

Sometimes, we may be unaware that our actions appear inauthentic to others. We can also tap into the structured left hemisphere of our brain. Consider discussing authenticity with your key stakeholders at work. Share that you would like to strengthen your authenticity, and invite their feedback, both reinforcing and redirecting.

For a more structured approach, consider a 360 feedback tool such as the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP). Authenticity is one of the core competencies identified in the LCP. They break it down into two subcomponents:

  • Integrity – “Integrity measures how well you adhere to the set of values and principles that you espouse; that is, how well you can be trusted to “walk your talk.”
  • Courageous Authenticity – “Courageous Authenticity measures your willingness to take tough stands, bring up the ‘un-discussibles’ (risky issues the group avoids discussing), and openly deal with difficult relationship problems.”

These distinctions show that my prior lack of assertiveness stemmed from a lack of courageous authenticity. I was hesitant to voice an unpopular opinion or risk upsetting others.

The LCP tool lets you get anonymous feedback from everyone around you to shine a brighter light on your strengths and opportunities. You can complete a free self-assessment here.

Authenticity and Leadership

As leaders, we have a responsibility beyond our own authenticity. We must foster a culture that enables everyone to embrace authenticity by creating a psychologically safe environment.

Consider the members of your team. Do you trust them? Do you feel they are showing up as their authentic selves? If there is a gap here, explore the environment. Ask your team what barriers prevent them from showing up as their authentic selves in the workplace. Share your experiences with building authenticity to foster trust and create a safer space for them to share and explore.

Putting It Into Practice

Living with authenticity is essential to great leadership and a fulfilling life. Consider these strategies to assess and strengthen your authenticity:

  • Reflect upon the people and events in your life that illustrate authenticity.
  • Consider whether you are putting on a mask or simply embodying an authentic persona.
  • Examine your values to determine conflicts that leave you feeling inauthentic.
  • Listen to your intuition.
  • Collect feedback from others to understand their perception of your authenticity.
  • Foster a psychologically safe environment that enables everyone to be authentic.

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* I recommend you just take my word for it, but if you are curious, here is a link to the scene.

Subscribe to Arete Pursuits