The Key to Being an Authentic Leader

One of the common problems my clients bring to the table is that of learning to be themselves in a new role. They may have been recently promoted or made a career move that demands more of them, maybe leading staff or a team for the first time. In addition to the steep learning curve required in these situations, is the need to establish themselves as an authentic presence.

The problem is, in a new role, with new demands being made on you, who is the authentic you?


One definition of authenticity is to be genuine; it’s the meaning most of my clients talk about when discussing the notion with me. They say things like ‘This isn’t who I am..’ or ‘It feels like an act, I’m just pretending…’. New challenges that come with new ways of being at work, can feel uncomfortable.

The way that you may have behaved in your last role may simply not be appropriate in your new one. Are you still identifying with your team, being ‘one of them’, or carrying out the tasks you always did because those feel familiar and comfortable?

Or is it time to adopt a shift in the way that you see yourself?   Your team will be expecting to see a different you – and so will your boss.

This is why it’s so tricky to talk about being authentic. Being authentic doesn’t mean staying the same and never changing.

Holding onto firm beliefs about what it means to be authentic can lead us to write rigid scripts about who we are and how we should behave. Often we’re so busy practicing our well-rehearsed lines that we don’t see that the scenery has changed and the audience want the action to move on – in fact, they’re demanding it does.

Change often causes problems, for others and often for ourselves if we don’t understand that as humans we are constantly evolving and developing and the person we are today is not the person we were yesterday.

Today, maybe

  • you’re someone who has read a quote that has made you think;
  • you’ve met someone who inspires you;
  • you’ve watched a programme that has affirmed your values;
  • you’ve listened to an opinion that has challenged you;
  • you’ve seen an injustice that has made you want to stand up for the oppressed;
  • you’ve heard a song that has taken you back years;
  • you’ve smelled a scent that has ignited a passion in you;
  • you’ve read a poem that has touched you deeply.

The experiences you have today will subtly shift your universe and ensure that you are not the same person tomorrow. Every encounter today leaves it’s micro-footprint and changes you.

The truth is, we are all really just made of shifting sands. How can we understand the concept of authenticity in a way that liberates us and inspires us to make the most of ourselves, and doesn’t make us slaves to outdated beliefs about who we were way back then?


How can we develop a useful definition of what it means to be authentic in a changing world?

3 Thoughts About Authenticity

  1. We are many things to many people. In the Hindu faith, there is the notion of one god, many forms. And we are one human, many forms. I am Sue the mother; Sue the writer; Sue the educator; Sue the wife. I am also Sue the impatient; Sue the procrastinator; Sue the amatuer cook and wine lover. Being authentic doesn’t mean showing all of you, to all of your colleagues, all of the time.
  2. What don’t you know about yourself yet? We all have huge reserves of untapped potential – we don’t know what we don’t know about ourselves. Sometimes we can seem so certain about the future, our role in it and how we think we would respond to events and triggers, that we forget none of us have a crystal ball. All we can say for certain is that ‘this is how I was in the past’. It’s not necessarily an indication of what could happen. It is possible to learn new ways of responding and behaving – and when you do so, you’re no less authentic for that.
  3. You are not the same person today that you were yesterday, or the day or year or decade before. Remember your first job? Just think about the skills you’ve learned since then, the experiences you’ve had and the knowledge you now have. You’ve changed, developed and grown since then. And your next new role will require you to change, grow and develop again.

Authenticity is about understanding who you are in the moment and knowing that we are complex creatures with different layers. We’re not one-dimensional.

Understanding and accepting who you are – all of you – can help you to be more comfortable with the different demands placed on you.

Authenticity is about embracing change.


I’m Susan Ritchie and I help new and aspiring female leaders to develop more impact, influence and presence in order to drive their careers forward. If you have your eyes on a more senior role then you may like to down load and read 10 Steps to Instant Influence .