Are you an authentic leader?

Whether you think you are or not, you are a leader.

Did you catch that? You are a leader.

If you think I might be crazy, let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you help make decisions for your family?
  • Do your friends call you for advice?
  • Do you stand in front of a classroom of students?
  • Do you have a platform and fans or followers?
  • Does anyone call you their boss?
  • Have people elected you to any position you hold?
  • Are you anyone’s role model?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are a leader.

Okay, so you finally believe me. So what?

The next thing I want to know is if you are an authentic leader? There are a few qualities that create real – or authentic – leaders.


A simple definition of character is – are you the same person when nobody is around as when the world is watching? Are you as true to your values? Leaders with character are trustworthy, humble and responsible.

You can quickly find out if you have character by looking around you. Do those you lead respect you, or do they fear you? There is a huge difference. The first makes you authentic. The second makes you a jerk with power.

Servant’s Heart

Remember when I said real leaders are humble? Being humble means being willing to do whatever needs to be done. Having a servant’s heart means never thinking of yourself as overqualified for any job on your team. It means the breadwinning patriarch of the family has no problem with pitching in to help with the dishes or laundry to serve his wife and kids. It means the CEO joyfully picks up the mop to help clean up a mess in the lobby if it is necessary.

We can learn from the most authentic leader who ever lived about servant leadership. In a culture where washing the feet was reserved for the lowest of the servants, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet with complete and unfailing love. Jesus! If the Son of God is not too proud to serve His followers, I know you and I definitely should not be.

Not only is having a servant’s heart important for being authentic in your leadership, but research shows those you lead will be more productive and devoted to you as a leader when they experience that you care enough to serve them.


Compassion is a multifaceted trait of active listening, patience and kindness. Compassion creates perspective. In leadership, being relentlessly committed to the ones we lead commands perspective.

This is why CBS’s Undercover Boss is so popular. The boss goes in and gains perspective by working alongside employees and learns about them, their sacrifice and the company. He finds out how his policies and organizational culture practically affect the people who are subjected to them.

Authentic leadership is impossible without active listening and honest communication. These things only happen organically when a leader shows compassion.

Photo by Jacob Moore – Dr. Samuel W. (“Dub”) Oliver is the 16th president of Union University.

Dr. Samuel “Dub” Oliver is the president of my alma mater, Union University. He is truly one of the most remarkable examples of authentic leadership I have ever known. One of his first acts as president was to give every incoming freshman his personal cell phone number. He ate alongside students in the dining hall nobody liked and invited students to his house to get to know them. He initiated an open-door policy with the staff and faculty to be able to come in and talk if they needed to. In his first year, he did great things for student life and community relations. How? Because Dr. Dub is authentic.

Circling back to where we started, are you an authentic leader?

It takes character, a servant’s heart and compassion. But nothing is an exact science. It often takes more than that.

What qualities do you think make an authentic leader?

Leave a comment or share this post with your answer and the hashtag #authenticleadership.



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