Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

It can be said that the world is the way it is because of leadership. Whether we’re looking at the challenges faced or the successes achieved in the world, it all goes back to leadership. Just as John Maxwell put it, everything rises and falls on leadership. We see many mistakes being made because of a leadership deficiency.

It is also accurate to say that the world does not lack leaders but rather lacks good leaders. Who is a good leader, though? Or rather, what are the parameters used to tell who a good leader is? This is a topic that is highly subjective depending on where you’re coming from.

There is no shortage of information on who a good leader is or should be, just like many aspects in life, we choose what to believe. Our beliefs and understanding are highly influenced by where we come from, the values we hold, the books we read, the friends we keep, the list goes on.

While having a conversation with one of my mentors about a dilemma he found himself in, a few years ago, he made a statement that stayed with me. “At the end of the day, you need to have a foundation to fall back to, whatever that may be for you, based on which you know nothing can shake your resolve.” This forms the perspective with which I look at anything in life. And in my case, it is the personal values and principles.

In my many dealings and relationships, I have come across some great leaders (not perfect) that have in one way or the other influenced the person I have become (still becoming). However, I have also seen leaders that struggle with authenticity and therefore present a false image of who they truly are. Talk about the paradox of authenticity. Therefore, who is an authentic leader? I believe the following principles are a good guide;

“Many leadership problems are driven by low self-awareness.”


At the very core of inauthentic leadership, is the issue of identity crisis. This is also a broad subject and there is definitely a lot that has been said and written about identity crisis, and we can say a lot more. I recently listened to Finding Self: An Identity Crisis, and it put some perspective to the subject.

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C Maxwell defines leadership as influence – nothing more, nothing less. With this understanding of leadership, we see that it is vital for the leader to be fully aware of who they are and what their purpose is. A leader who isn’t sure about who they are and what they stand for is surely in no position to lead others. After all, we can only give from what we have. It is this lack of clarity in purpose and vision that leads to many leadership problems and broadens the leadership gap.

It is also important for leaders, especially today to continuously seek knowledge for their own growth. In a broader perspective, Habit 7: Sharpen the saw from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habit of Highly Effective People highlight the aspect of preserving and enhancing self as a continuous process that is necessary for the leader’s growth.

“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance”


During an interview on The Knowledge Podcast with Shane Parrish, when asked what a fulfilled life looks like, John C Maxwell had this to say; “I think a fulfilled life is a life that is lived for others, it’s not about me (….) you only add value to the people you value. So, valuing people is core to living a fulfilled life”

Stewardship breeds servant leadership. Servant leaders understand that nothing they have inherently belongs to them, but it has all been given for the benefit of others. I believe this is a core principle for authentic leadership; knowing that the purpose of a leader hinges on the need to continuously make others better. Leaders with a stewardship mindset invest more time and other resources in intentionally building others.

The oxymoron that servant leadership is, is what best describes stewardship in leadership. A leader is meant to serve his followers, and through service, be a positive influence. Such leaders, however, are not the easily found. It’s important to always remember that leadership is a verb and not a noun. However, the most popular narrative today is one that presents leadership as a position or title for one to be served and less as a platform to serve and influence others. This is one of the reasons as to why there are more inauthentic leaders.

It is without a doubt that some of the most influential and successful leaders are those that have understood these core principles and have remained true to themselves throughout their leadership journey.

As we continue to serve and empower those in our circles of influence, may we pursue nothing short of our true selves.

“People would rather follow a leader who is real, than a leader who is right”

I published the original version of this article on The Red Notebook.