The Secret Behind Authentic Leadership

Transparency may be the the hallmark of authentic leaders, but it’s not the only skill needed, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

As the workplace becomes increasingly collaborative and virtual, leaders do best if they cultivate genuine connections and rapport. This takes what’s being called  “authentic leadership.”  It turns out there’s a strong overlap between emotional intelligence (EI) and authentic leadership, according to new research published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal.

 Both EI and authentic leadership depend on a foundation of emotional self-awareness. To effectively manage others, you do better if you accurately understand your strengths, weaknesses, and, especially, values. This creates clarity around your purpose and lets you speak candidly about your vision. Self-awareness also makes it easier to develop emotional balance. While authentic leadership is often characterized by transparency, it’s important to balance openness with self-control. When stressful situations inevitability arise, the ability to remain calm and clear-headed is critical—everyone looks to the leader in a crisis to see how worried they need to be.

Authentic leaders are empathic leaders who have the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they see things. With empathy, you can listen attentively to understand the person’s perspective. Leaders who welcome opposing viewpoints and give them fair consideration imbue their leadership with authenticity. Empathy, along with self-awareness, feeds the moral aspects of authentic leadership. Adhering to a positive ethical foundation as you make decisions shows moral maturity.

Relationship management–the crux of effective leadership–at a primal level means managing others’ emotions. This requires being in touch with your own emotions and acting from them genuinely; people have built-in radar for faking. When you articulate a shared mission that inspires, deploy empathy and teamwork, a felt resonance emerges. This gives a bedrock for you to build genuine connections and establish rapport.

Authentic leaders are comfortable being vulnerable, which includes treating others with compassion and being accountable for their actions. They share their perspective honestly and encourage productive debate on their team. And they foster an environment that supports learning, growth, and mentorship

Researchers found that the four EI domains (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) closely correspond with the prevailing model of authentic leadership, which also includes four components (self-awareness, balanced processing, relational transparency, and internalized moral perspective). Through a meta-analysis of EI and authentic leadership, researchers confirmed their hypothesis that “EI is significantly and positively related to authentic leadership.”

Like EI, authentic leadership has been shown to improve team performance and build organizational trust. It’s no surprise–people enjoy working for leaders who take responsibility for their actions and treat everyone fairly. In addition to liking their leaders–which itself reduces turnover–employees of authentic leaders feel heard and inspired. They’re comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions, even if these might differ from their leader’s, and they find meaning in their work beyond the day-to-day, thus driving engagement. 

Above all, the similarities between emotional intelligence and authentic leadership make it easier to develop both of these abilities. By strengthening your own emotional intelligence through self-reflection, mindfulness, or the guidance of a coach, you can increase your authenticity as a leader.