Written by: Dan Mulhern For original post click here

Thank you to the nearly 300 people who responded to my survey about authentic leadership. Your great input fuels today’s column.


So, why focus on “authentic” leadership? Why not start-up leadership, courageous leadership, improvisational, trustworthy, heroic, servant or — well, pick your favorite adjective . . . dancing leadership, defiant, athletic, flourishing…Why authentic?


Two reasons. First, it’s about growth. We can all work to be more or less “authentic.” As a young man, I (unconsciously) hid behind titles, social expectations, and I navigated politics. One of the (potential) gifts of age is you can get real, authentic. But, maybe if we look at what it is, we can figure out how to reveal more of it . . . now.


And the big reason I’m writing about it is that, as my survey indicates, authentic leadership generates dramatic benefits. So, “authentic leadership” should attract your attention if you want these four outcomes in your leadership (as indicated by my recent survey):


66% of survey respondents said the impact they saw from the most authentic leader they worked with was an increase in trust, respect, loyalty;

55% used words that said their authentic leader was inspiring, motivating and that they evoked passion and hard work from those who followed them;

44% of the comments spoke to how the authentic leaders generated a positive environment for work and one that was inclusive,

39% said the authentic leader generated team unity and fostered collaboration*


Those are really nice calling cards, aren’t they? Who wouldn’t want to generate more of that from their teams?


So, at the threshold (more next week), you might ask three questions: (1) When have I been most authentic? (2) What would it take for me to be as authentic as I was then? and perhaps wonder: (3) What keeps me from being me — most true to who I am and what I believe in as a leader?


Surveys are cool, but what I loved about this one is that I invited others to speak – in their own words – about their most authentic leader. I’ve printed below their verbatim comments, so that they may inspire you, as they inspire me to


Lead with your best self.


Many thanks to my student Jason Tang for wading through boatloads of individual comments to bring you these findings!


  • She became a role model for others
  • He was able to evoke passion in others with his own passion and dedication.
  • Positive movement forward, momentum, teaming, unity.
  • Soldiers intuitively trusted him. They followed him for his understated charisma. They were genuinely proud to be a part of the organization. They went the extra mile to get a job done.
  • The result was trust. You knew Keith had your best interests at heart, would listen and consider what you had to say. Org culture and behavior is modeled from the top, and the org followed suit for the most part.
  • The dedication and respect of entire team; camaraderie within the team; instilling within me the desire to do my best.
  • It made me a willing follower and contributor.
  • She was easy to follow
  • Everyone try their hardest to excel and reach the RIGHT conclusion.
  • People wanted to perform at their best to please her because they liked and respected her not because they were afraid of her.
  • People worked harder because they saw how hard she worked.
  • The work was always completed timely and well.
  • He served as a model for my own teaching practices.
  • It lead to incredible growth and confidence in myself – and had served me well throughout my career. It make me feel like an equal when I presented the solutions – and agreed or indicated it was better than he might have thought of. He built trust and loyalty. And it is a method/tactic that I still use today with my direct reports, most of whom say they greatly appreciate the growth and opportunities it affords.
  • she is inspiring & calming
  • Kathryn’s organized and driven nature means she accomplishes the tasks she sets out to do. This generates positive effects because she is leading by example and motivating you by being in the trenches with you.
  • Her honesty means that you know what she expects from you, and how she thinks you actually did. This results in an atmosphere of no games and no surprises.
  • Her caring for others resulted in personal loyalty.
  • People know him to be a reliable source of wisdom and guidance in personal and professional issues. He is also known as an extremely dependable, consistent, hard worker, as he establishes a culture of selflessness and leading by example.
  • Trust and confidence in his leadership. And I felt respected and valued.
  • He was soft-spoken, but firm. Fair, but uncompromising. He gave us the material, encouraged us as much as possible, then allowed us to take from it what we would. If we had questions or wanted further information, he was happy to oblige.
  • People who knew Tom were always inspired to work harder, to learn, to grow.
  • People working together across party lines. Constructive legislation.
  • You want to do good for him.
  • We grew. As people and as employees. He exposed us to the things and thought leaders he had an interest in, and it helped us to develop as well. Whatever access he had, he shared, while retaining (and teaching) the importance of humility, regardless of title. He…”Beheld us.” He encouraged us to dream less and do more and showed us how to negotiate priorities in our lives to accomplish actual deeds that seemed to be only wants. He provided time for us to write objectives, monitored them with us, allowed us to pick his brain and offered his advice. He really cared.
  • I sought to incorporate them in myself
  • You are bound to grow, develop wonderful patterns of behavior and professionalism, feel secure amidst up and down aspects of your confidence and always believe in striving to be better, do better and want better.
  • Employees were more confident in their jobs and wanted to please him and do good for him. They knew he believed in them and they didn’t want to let him down. His trust in his employees was unmatched in anyone I’ve ever worked for or with.
  • Everyone knew where they stood; no confusion about what he thought of you or how he appreciated you; his passion was infectious; his style of working informed the way we worked with our own teams and clients.
  • They were passionate. They brought people together in organized and informal ways. They wanted to mentor young people. They were very supportive of youth leadership. They were open to walking through an idea and changing their mind if the strategy was not ideal. Most importantly, they always had clarity around what their values are and what the end goal should be.
  • Lifelong commitments to civic engagement and others involved in the work.
  • Because of is honest and open communication with me, we have developed a very trusting relationship.
  • A new yearning to learn new and different ways of thinking and doing
  • Everyone seemed very clear as to what they were suppose to be focusing on.
  • I felt accepted and affirmed. He never judged. He was very in touch with human frailty.
  • Instilled loyalty and a high functioning organization because of his servant leadership.
  • More collaboration among various NGOS with differing missions; more positive changes in state policies based on respect based relationships with other leaders and colleagues.
  • I was more productive and wasn’t afraid to take risks. I knew he would support my efforts.
  • Uniformity, cohesiveness, no question as to who is the leader.
  • Loyalty, even when you disagreed. Willingness to take risks because he did.
  • I would follow her into another difficult project in a heartbeat. Things got accomplished. I was required to give above and beyond, occasionally for months at a time, but since I felt appreciated, I felt respected, I knew I wasn’t going to be thrown under the bus, and I knew that the task would be successfully completed, I was happy to do so.
  • Visionary leadership. Commitment of the team to shared and understood vision and mission. Cohesiveness. Confidence that contradictory recommendations or views could be voiced, heard and discussed.
  • Loyalty; teamwork; respect; action. people worked hard for him but had fun in the process.
  • Taught me much of what I know about leadership
  • She nurtured and grew new leaders…some were her supervisors, some her peers, some her subordinates.
  • Doing what he said he was going to do
  • Brought real issues to the forefront. Kept the organization focused on the right things. Made room for others to excel and be visible.
  • Because everyone’s ideas and feelings were respected, I saw large groups of diverse people feel very free to share those thoughts and feelings, knowing they were “safe” in doing so. It led to better decisions being made and work getting done more quickly because everyone was on board or had at least felt heard.
  • Moved organization forward
  • I think the word authentic is inauthentic. Like the word “deep” used to mean something profound and serious, it is redundant if a leader is a leader. We wouldn’t use the phrase “authentic mother or authentic father” anymore than we should use the phrase “authentic leader.” As Gertrude Stein might say in this day and age of misusing language, a leader is a leader is a leader.
  • People will go out of their way above and beyond to help him in whatever he asked. Less turn over, no politicking, and you always knew where you stood (no assumptions)
  • She engages people to work toward shared goals. Able to keep the team focused and balanced.
  • People follow someone who they think is being on the level with them. His personal story led others to believe that they could achieve too. He moved people into service.
  • Changes that howled everyone has/had value to add to the organization.
  • The whole band empowered and encouraged to do their best and we all felt good about our efforts – individually and collectively.
  • Encouragement to others to follow and pursue their dreams.
  • The biggest is the work ethic of all of my siblings-my grandfather lived with us.
  • Learning took place in their classes. I was also able to grow in my mastery of the subject area they taught.
  • Real, tangible change in the organization, sense of safety within his team, lots of creativity, laughter and deep personal regard
  • loyalty, affection for the organization
  • He always led by example and we and others knew his way was not only useful and effective, but usually fun as well. Even when it was hard work or tedious. There was always a way to make it fun.


  • It was thus always memorable, and everyone always wanted to know what was next, and we all wanted to work with him and follow his lead.
  • boldness, honesty and integrity
  • His goals were clear and simple, so I never had to guess. The way he treated me, I wanted him to be proud of me. He was so personable, the way he would tell me stories about his rookie year or his life. The way he intearcted with people, his manner was simple, direct and honest and I would have done anything he would have asked.
  • She had a lot of support from her employees and from management. The resulting impact was a very collaborative and teamwork centered department. We wanted to support each other and achieve results together and not against each other.
  • authentic way of leading lead to organizing and more honest expression among employees to be more involved in county committees outside of the department to affect county level policy
  • We feel empowered and motivated.
  • It produced loyalty and respect from me. I felt at ease with her knowing that she would support me even if I made a mistake. I enjoyed her feedback as I felt it was there to help me and not as a form to criticize me or to make me feel bad.
  • You can’t help but get on board- her energy draws everyone in
  • People he led knew that he was being honest, so they believed him and were more likely to mirror his honesty in their dealings with colleagues and others
  • Brings out best in others, inspires, encourages others to take risks, to aim high.
  • Personal growth. More enjoyable workplace.
  • Trust by high performers
  • very tangible change in the lives of the patients’ the clinic serves. patients were connected with programs/resources such as food stamps, housing and transportation
  • Much of this is thanks to Dr. Rhadakrishna
  • He respected the people he worked with, praised their efforts, and often asked for advice.
  • I could always be honest and forthright, I never had to refrain from telling the truth regardless of how good or bad the news was.
  • Inspires others to follow his example, shows that “it” can be done, makes others feel valued and loved
  • Her style of leadership made me feel excited about work, empowered to bring more to the table and engage in more of a leadership role myself. Her positive style of leadership really energized me and led me to want to take on a larger role at work.
  • Work became more enjoyable with a purpose.
  • Lead by example
  • High trust within the organization. Quickly moving past an ugly time of corporate malfeasance. Selection of a highly-qualified successor. Strengthening of the management team.
  • Great loyalty from his staff, and willingness to give total effort and live up to his example. Great loyalty to each other, built a strong team.
  • very easy to be transparent in return.
  • I saw the positive impact he had on his people and community as he held their highest trust in him.
  • It was easy to look at this person as a mentor, it was early in my management career and I appreciated her as an example that I could aspire to. She also let me get to know what was important in her own life and we found that we had a need for work/life balance in common. This was a relief because it so rarely exists in my field. Essentially, she let me do my job and stayed out of the way unless I needed her, or she needed to give me direction. I never felt micro-managed, but knew that she was there if I needed anything.
  • His staff love him, he loves his staff. His staff will go above and beyond for him.
  • Trust and respect
  • more confidence in myself
  • He was polite and articulate. Very much a gentleman. So others emulated him. He set an excellent example for how to allow many opinions be heard and not have too muc discord. He showed that viewpoints were honored and stimulating, yet not necessarily divisive.
  • Clarity of direction to the entire team inside and outside, improved respect in the industry, higher alignment of the team
  • Encouragement and support for those she leads.
  • Created positive energy and motivated me to work to achieve both my own goals and the company goals.
  • De’s employees, full-time or student, felt valued. She fostered a team atmosphere in her unit. Her unit was one that other employees wanted to join if an opening became available. Now that I am a unit supervisor I try to model my behavior on De. I’d like to be able to say that my unit is a team that other employees want to become part of just like De’s unit.
  • I felt safe, happy, and wanted to do a great job to make them happy.
  • He was so loyal and vested in us. It had such an impact on me how empowering it is to have a leader you knew would stand behind you no matter what. He wanted to see us stand on our own 2 feet and always said “if you can give me a solid reason why you did what you did I will have your back even if what you did was the wrong decision”.
  • He was well-liked, despite disagreements about his actions at times. He was respected and seen as a person who believed in what he did.
  • The team wants to work for this leader, they give 100% continually and are recognized for their great effort. The success of this team has been modeled within our organization on how other teams have been created and structured.
  • Motivation for me to do well. Inspired to try new things. A model for me to be authentic without my personality or ego at the forefront. We get a lot done efficiently and smoothly and enjoyably.
  • Under his leadership the organization advanced tremendously.
  • Trust, loyalty, commitment to do a great job
  • People knew where they stood and felt comfortable extending themselves to do their best job.
  • When she spoke, people believed what she said. She was respected on our campus and looked to for answers.
  • Around her everything calmed down and we could return to our frontal cortex rather than reacting from our fear based amygdala. We could finally reason.
  • People respected him even if they didn’t like him
  • You always got an honest, non-political opinion
  • Leading by example
  • Compassionate attitude towards all but hard task master
  • Pro active way of easing citizen lives
  • Citizen centric.
  • He modeled what he expected from us. He woke early, and worked hard. Unless it was Sunday, then he just woke early and we went to church.
  • She created other leaders like her. We could talk to her about anything, she allowed us to vent and sometimes she would say to move on and come back to it.
  • He made me feel as though I was important, that I had value to add to the organization and gave me confidence to do things I may not have otherwise done.
  • trust
  • He was able to implement the Community Ventures program, which is an initiative of Imclusive Economic Development that has successful provided meaningful employment for over 3000 of the most challenged.
  • Our IEDC Research Partners recently issued a paper that included this initiative along with several others to provide promising practices for inclusive economic development.
  • I knew I could always approach him with a work related issue. I knew he would give me his best guidance that was consistent with other staff.
  • He listened when we disagreed and sometimes changed the directives based on our conversations – he was open to learn more when appropriate.
  • You clearly knew where you stood and how your performance was compared to expectations. If you can accept critiques (many times with positive intent but not always) you have feedback that can be vital in improving your overall performance.
  • Current and relevant product that accomplishes the goals and mission of the organization. An involved and committed workforce and volunteer community. Engagement by the customers/consumers.
  • He made leading an organization seem positive and effective. It didn’t seem hierarchical, it felt inclusive. It didn’t seem confusing, it felt clear and compelling. It didn’t seem intrusive, it made me feel as if I could use my own talents and skills and contribute as I saw fit.
  • Pat listened to staff in varying roles and processed the information about a work topic . I would say her communication with the staff about work topics was honest and direct. She never made you feel less of a person. There was a deep sense of trust. You could share information and know it would never go anywhere. Pat was a very good small group leader and even better one on one.
  • We all became more confident in our abilities and more importantly we respected him, not froma a fear perspective but from a “soldier to soldier” perspective because of his knowledge and his ability to mentor us in his own way.
  • Their actions demonstrated their goals and expectations. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of their position in the organization. The golden rule was treat everyone as you would like to be treated and they passed out golden rulers for reminders to everyone.
  • Straight forward and trustworthy
  • I trusted their word.
  • Their trust, listening, and belief in you
  • Work was enjoyable, and extra effort was rewarded. I felt respected as a professional.
  • This supervisor set the standards high. People were inspired to do better.
  • Her team is fully aware of what is going on in the agency
  • A willingness to commit, to takes risks, to give 110%, develop open and honest dialogue, always knew where we were and where we were going


Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership, gender and organizational culture. Now teaching courses on leadership, organizational behavior and public policy at the Haas School of Business and Boalt Law School at University of California, Berkeley, Mulhern leverages his experience to offer valuable insight on the leadership and cultural changes happening in today’s workplaces. Through his work as a public speaker, radio personality, writer, leadership coach, and consultant, Mulhern’s inspired thousands to lead with their best self. To learn more about Dan visit danmulhern.com

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