Can Authentic Leadership Be Learned? Here’s How To Begin

So many people talk about authentic leadership these days, but what does the term really mean? Perhaps more importantly: can authentic leadership actually be learned – or is it innate? Do some people just “have it” and others not?

The reality is that authentic leadership is a combination of your innate qualities and learned skills. Skills that can often be developed effectively through the use of a coach.

The uniqueness of who you are, and your unique personality, belong to your innate qualities. It is impossible for you to show up as an authentic leader without having these innate qualities on display. While these qualities are critical, they are of little value in a leader that lacks the skills to bring them to the forefront day in and day out.

Authentic leadership is manifested through skills that can be learned. These skills can be practiced and masterfully expressed through your unique personality.

These authentic leadership skills are really tools that allow you to bring your authentic self to the forefront. So the process of “learning” authentic leadership – in practice – is actually a process of drawing out the authentic leader already within a person. Instead of inserting something into someone, like knowledge or a skillset, the coach’s task is actually to help the mentee or client summon something from within.  It is through this process that you can develop into a high performance, authentic leader.

So how is this “drawing out” achieved?


1) Get clear on your vision of who you are as an authentic leader.


Take some time alone to reflect and imagine yourself thriving and doing incredible work as an authentic leader. What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Who are you as that person, and how are you showing up when you imagine yourself as a successful authentic leader? This visioning process is a crucial first step in the process. After all, we ought to know where we are going when we set out on a journey.

In this process you will be allowing those deep aspects of your personality to come through, because the deeper you dig in terms of what you’re willing to bring out, the deeper, the connection other people will have with you.


2) Get a mentor or a coach.


It’s a tough world out there. It’s tough to achieve any sort of transformation by ourselves. Particularly the task of conjuring forth your inner authentic leader. We all have blind spots and a coach can be a critical element in breaking through those barriers.

I’ve had the same coach for 40 years, and he constantly guides me in being more of who I am – to be more authentic and to have a deeper connection with the people in my life, both through work and in my personal life.


3) Set goals


Set goals, and use your coach to stay accountable. Make sure that you follow through on those goals to complete them. That sets an example for others to see that you’re somebody who does what you say you’re going to do.

Having integrity – practically – can be expressed by setting goals and achieving them. This brings you credibility and generates trust with your people. They can see that you are someone they can believe in and count on.


4) Become a coach to someone else.


After you have made some progress on the journey (and we aren’t ever “complete” with becoming authentic leaders), serve as a coach to the people that work with you. Support them in drawing out their inner authentic leaders. Begin developing those people.

  • Have them get clear on their vision of themselves as authentic leaders.
  • Have them engage with a coach or a mentor (you or someone else in addition to or other than you.)
  • Support them in achieving their goals
  • Guide them in becoming a coach for their teams. Because the missing piece in most organizations is having high performance at every level of the organization.


If we all take responsibility for our authentic leadership, and the leadership abilities of the people we work with, then we embrace accountability for cultivating this leadership style down through the organization… and everyone will be so much better off.

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