The Secret Guide to Authentic Leadership - Secret Seven, Eight and Nine


The Secret Guide to Authentic Leadership - Secret Seven, Eight and Nine



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In the evolving landscape of leadership, the concept of servant leadership stands as a transformative approach that challenges traditional hierarchical models. Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s, servant leadership turns conventional corporate management on its head, emphasizing the importance of leaders serving their teams rather than commanding them. This philosophy promotes the idea that true leaders prioritize the growth and well-being of those in their care, fostering a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. As someone who experienced the rigid, top-down management style prevalent in corporate America during the late 70s, I found Greenleaf's perspective revolutionary and deeply resonant.


Secret #1: Finding Your Inner Voice

Secret #2: Your Legacy

Secret #3: Stand Up and Speak Out

Secret #4: Leadership and Management

Secret #5: Don’t Imitate Others

Secret #6: Lead From Within


Secret #7: Servant Leader

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the word servant-leadership in the 1970s. His philosophy turned the tables on the foundation of what corporate management was built upon. He said, “As a leader, you are to serve those you lead,” those in your care. Authentic leaders serve those in their care. Growing up in corporate America in the late 70s, I experienced the traditional style of leadership during that time. As an employee, I was to obey my leader. ‘Just saying that brings a picture of a form of subjugation. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but saying it out loud is powerful. It’s also powerful to turn that philosophy upside down and say, “As a leader, I’m here to serve those in my care to the best of my abilities, striving to bring out the best in each of them.” That feels good, both inside and out.

During my early career days, I would say that many leaders thought it beneath them to serve those they led. I think those leaders believed they may lose respect and, even more importantly, they may lose power over them.

I had an instance in 2019 when I was hired for an interim leadership position in workforce training for higher education. I had an employee who was older than me, who thought I was giving away my power and prestige by treating those in my care as equals when it came to sharing in tasks that we all benefit from, cleaning out the luncheon room refrigerator on a weekly basis.

I had sent around a signup sheet for this weekly task, which I had already assigned myself for a week that worked for me. This employee came into my office and asked why I had signed up. She thought that task was beneath a leader, specifically me. I was taken aback by her short-sighted approach to leadership. I told her that contrary to her belief, I felt strongly that because I used the frig, too, why wouldn’t I be responsible for cleaning it out, also? You can gain even more respect and power as a servant leader by having a philosophy that matches word and deed. She could not understand it, and thought I was wrong in my decision. I was sad that she couldn’t see the positive impact of that small job.

You may want to try reading the following two sentences out loud. See if you notice feeling any difference in the meaning of the two:


  • “The employees who work for me do a variety of tasks.”
  • “The employees who I work for do a variety of tasks.”

Secret #8 – Being Genuine

To me being an authentic leader means being genuine. My definition of genuine is who we are and what we do when no one is watching. Our internalized principles drive our choices and behavior. Our internalized principles serve as the foundation for our beliefs and behaviors. They are the choices we make.

When we embody certain principles and qualities, like inspiring trust and respect, building meaningful relationships, demonstrating humility, and a willingness to learn from others, it starts with a commitment to always bettering ourselves and prioritizing the well-being and development of those in our care. When leaders are true to themselves, it creates an environment where people feel safe to be themselves, share their ideas, and express their concerns openly. Genuine leaders don’t try to be someone they’re not or pretend to have all the answers. They are transparent about their strengths, weaknesses, and experiences.

Genuinely caring about the well-being of those in your care means taking the time to listen to understand, and support them both personally and professionally. Empathy fosters strong relationships and helps to build a positive and inclusive work environment.

An important part of my leadership journey continues to be sharing my missteps and learnings with others. I seem to learn the most from my mistakes and also recognize when I do things right and when those in my care flourish. Being a genuine leader means living with integrity, honesty, and accountability through transparency. It’s also leading by example, where words and actions match, and being open to being called out when principles are violated is a must.

Overall, genuine leadership is about leading with authenticity, integrity, empathy, vision, and humility to inspire and empower others to achieve their full potential.

Secret #9 – Express Your Leadership as a Person

Years ago, an article I read talked about the essence of authentic leadership, which emerges when leaders feel safe expressing who they are as people. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, asked by a reporter how he knew what to do in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, had an insightful response:  "Nobody knew what to do. You had to act on instinct." There is a great lesson in that answer for every leader. Leaders must put aside their notions of how leaders should act and be more authentic as people.

By expressing your leadership as a person, you are more likely to embody the qualities and behaviors that positively influence and inspire others. That means you lead by example, demonstrate integrity and empathy, and you act decisively in your actions and qualities. Looking back on my career, I can remember taking too much time getting the opinions and thoughts of others. I could have inquired about others’ opinions and evaluated the responses in a more timely manner, then decided and acted more swiftly.

I did a much better job of empowering others, fostering collaboration, and fostering a supportive environment where everyone could contribute their best. I truly embody the belief that leadership is not just about holding a title or position; it’s about making a difference and driving positive change. Expressing your leadership as a person is about consistently showing up as someone others can trust, respect, and follow.


To Wrap Things Up!

Reflecting on my journey, I realize that embracing servant leadership has profoundly impacted my approach to guiding and empowering others. By prioritizing authenticity, integrity, and empathy, I have cultivated an environment where individuals feel valued and motivated to contribute their best. This shift from authority-driven leadership to a more inclusive, supportive style enhances team dynamics and drives positive change and growth. As leaders, when we embody the principles of servant leadership and express our true selves, we create a legacy of trust, respect, and inspiration that transcends traditional boundaries, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and impactful leadership experience.

Photo by Fernando @cferdophotography on Unsplash