Success – Authentic Leadership

Originally Published January 21, 2018

Originally Published January 21, 2018

In the post last week (, there was a brief study on the origin of a few key words. That article also pointed out essential differences between leadership and management. To be clear, both are needed in successful organizations, but these two words are not synonymous. 

In this post, I want to explore a deeper understanding of leadership.  To truly succeed as a leader there must be a level of authenticity in everything you do. What does the word, “authentic” mean? According to Etyomonline, an online etymology dictionary (, its origins come from the Greek word authentikos, which means, “original, genuine, principle” and that Greek word is derived from authentes, and this means, “one acting on one’s own authority”. 

Using the origins of words often helps us get beyond our culture’s superficial meanings that we have used in business. I believe it is important to understand the true nature of what we are saying as it reflects a better understanding of what is desired in conversation or dialog. Words do indeed have more than definitions, they have meanings with heart and passion.

Now to assemble “Authentic” with “Leader”. From the previously mentioned post, which has a reference to the word “leader”, it comes from Old English lædere, or “to guide, conduct”. An authentic leader is one who is original or genuine and is a guide or one who conducts. In a high-tech world of pithy statements conveyed in 140 characters or less, it is difficult to cut through the noise of social media and connect with authentic leaders.

In the second chapter of Jim Collins’ book Good to Great there is a graphic which shows of 5 separate levels of leadership (page 20). These levels are based upon years of research and analysis of multiple companies. Jim Collins refers to business leaders like Darwin Smith (CEO of Kimberly-Clark from 1971 – 1991), Coleman Mockler (CEO of Gillette 1975 – 1991), and David Maxwell (CEO of Fannie Mae 1981 – 1990); all of whom not only helped these companies to thrive in their industries, but also left a heritage to ensure others who followed had the tools and the means to succeed. In that same chapter Jim Collins also introduces the reader to Stanley Gault (CEO of Rubbermaid 1981 – 1991). The contrast for Stanley Gault is that once he left Rubbermaid, the company did not have the tools to succeed. All four of these men were indeed good leaders and produced great results during their time of oversight. However, not all of them left a heritage within their companies that ensured success for those who would follow. The first three were focused on the success of the company long-term, and the last was focused on personal success during his tenure.

The key point in the 2nd chapter of Good to Great is to introduce the idea of what Jim Collins refers to as a “level 5 leader”. The 5 levels of leadership are building blocks, meaning that in order to be effective as a level 2 leader, one must also be effective as a level 1 leader. Through the book there is a focus on cultivating level 5 leadership, which is defined as, “Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of person humility and professional will.” This is what I mean when I refer to the term “authentic leader”.

If one is a student of leadership in the workplace, whether that be a corporation, government municipality, elected office, charitable organization, or church; this book should at least be considered as a possible cornerstone to understand true authentic leadership. As a leader, are you being authentic (humble, original, genuine)? 

Note to the reader, “Do not hear what I am not saying.” I am not stating that an authentic leader must reveal every emotion or thought that enters their mind. As a leader, if I am getting short-tempered with my cohorts, it is okay for me to apologize and explain that I was out of line and it is because I have some other issues that are bothering me. In this, I am being authentic without revealing the true source of those issues that I am experiencing. Nonetheless, this is an over simplification of being an authentic leader. My desire is to make things clear, and I am not advocating an in-genuine, overly saccharine form of leadership. A true leader must make difficult decisions, must have a drive for a culture of excellence, and must push people outside of their comfort zone. An authentic leader does not make decisions based upon the desire to have people love them, they make decisions because they love the people they lead. Sometimes, love needs to be tough and gritty.

Are you an authentic leader? Are you following an authentic leader? Are you being mentored by an authentic leader? Are you taking the time to quietly reflect on your mindset and attitude each day? What are you doing in your life to increase your leadership skills? How are you being authentic with those around you?


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