Authentic Leadership as Listening

I wrote earlier about the perspective that “leaders donʻt matter,” that for most mainstream leadership positions there are a set of leaders ready to fill a slot, with skills, qualities, values and experience to function perfectly well in the role.  Itʻs a radical idea in a culture that generally imagines a leader to be a unique beacon of individual achievement.

Hereʻs another balloon to pop (there are so many!), this time about authenticity.

Authenticity isnʻt about the leader. Itʻs about the follower. Because if an authentic leader is a role model, demonstrating values-based behaviors in a consistent performance of self, then the most effective sustainable performance of authenticity is listening. 

Yup, the most effective performance of a grounded, self-aware, articulate, authentic leader with a chance at a long-term leadership role is the confidence and clarity to actively and regularly listen to people. That kind of attention is what makes the difference between sustainable leadership and charismatic failure. Followers of whatever status respond with loyalty to a listening leader, even deciding to mirror their behavior and values, because they have a healthy relationship, and feel seen.

“I just wish the big cow would let me talk for a minute! I know how to untie these ropes!”

So, in essence, when an authentic leader makes room for others to shine (in leadership parlance, itʻs talked about as empowering a culture of authenticity) s/he shines, too. In fact, the authentic leader who asserts his or her own agenda through their authentic identity and forgets to listen burns out like a cheap bulb.

And thatʻs a good thing. Because authenticity is as authenticity does.  On the ground, itʻs about being present. And listening is the leaderʻs best tool for authentic presence.


  1. at the RNC convention there is a major focus on authenticity as Romney’s defining quality. I heard commentators noting that his record in MA was hard to run on, what with healthcare reform and job loss, so they are focusing on his ‘authentic leadership’.


  2. […] researchers talk a lot about personal authenticity based in values, and the ways those values show by what we do and how we lead, not just what we […]


  3. […] the foolish leaders who, in their earnestness, get stuck in leadership roles that feel good (read “authentic”) but don’t do much good at […]


  4. […] must fill in our organizations. That’s basically about having a flexible understanding of our authenticity as a leader, knowing our identity and authentic story as a […]


  5. […] shapeshift because we bring our whole network of selves into any given situation, and that makes us better listeners, better connectors, better friends, better parents, better teachers, better managers — better […]


  6. […] in the way of your leadership responsibilities! Where my thinking intersects with this post is that leadership is about relationships — and all action has to proceed from that place in order to […]


  7. […] happens when a leader shows us what trust means by actually doing something. As Iʻve said before, authenticity is as authenticity does, and that means speeches (no matter who speechifies them) offer no test of […]


  8. […] Drive to the heart of an issue. They ask questions that filter the critical information from the noise, and that help connect the dots. They take a step back and ask, Why is this the case? How does this […]


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