Executive Master of Leadership Blog

How to Stay True to Yourself: Characteristics of Authentic Leadership

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 24, 2019 7:51:00 AM / by USC Price


In part two of Dr. Carol Geffner's interview with The Right Honourable Charles Clarke, they discuss what it means to be an authentic leader, and how to balance authenticity with transparency and the needs of a constituency. 

Dr. Geffner: From my experience, there are individuals who value authenticity and they can naturally carry it through. I'm curious about your personal experience and that examples of authentic leadership that you've seen in others.

How do you advise leaders to be authentic?



The Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke: The single most important thing in my view is to really think through yourself. Who are you as a leader? If it's all acting, if it's all pretending, if it's all Hollywood, it won't, at the end of the day, work because people will see through you.

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There are politicians who try and pretend to be authentic, you see what I mean in the way that it goes. The politicians who succeed are the political leaders who have told the story of who they are, why they are behaving as they are, what they believe, what they're trying to achieve, fairly and truthfully throughout the process.

Some politicians don't do that. Some politicians are embarrassed about some aspect of their history, their past, their circumstances, and so they kind of half cover them up in a way that is unhelpful.

I think you have to really think through who you are before you get to a leadership position, and therefore be at ease with yourself about how you behave, what you do, and what you think about. I think that's much less common than you might think.

"If it's all acting, if it's all pretending, if it's all Hollywood, it won't, at the end of the day, work because people will see through you."


Why is authentic leadership important when balancing the needs of a constituency?

People try and think, "Well, what do those people want me to be?" That's a very bad question. If you're trying to be what those people, the people you lead or otherwise want you to be, then you start distorting yourself into what you think is their frame. People recognize that.

People want to know who you are. I'd rarely say think about yourself first, but in this particular context, it is a very good question to ask. Thinking about who you are is the most important thing, and then hopefully you come across as somebody who's comfortable in their skin.

Dr. Geffner: And, I think you live those words. I haven't known you very long, but one of the first observations I made is that you're human, you are approachable, and you're not rehearsing for this. You're just talking from your beliefs, your values, and that which you have experienced.

The Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke: It's nice of you to say that, and I appreciate it, Carol. I've only just met you too, and I think the same of you.

"We define [transformational and charismatic] leadership as representing the moral high road of leadership. It is also leadership that is individually considerate, intellectually stimulating, inspirationally motivational, visionary, and of high ethical standards. Transformational and charismatic leadership involve a unique bonding among leaders and followers - emotional attachment, respect, and trust form the basis of these approaches."

- Bruce J. Avolio, Introduction to, and Overview of, Transformational and Charismatic Leadership


How do you be an authentic leader and balance transparency with your constituency?


The question really is, am I trying to persuade anybody of anything? In politics, you're often trying to persuade people. You think, “can I distort what I think a bit? Can I pull myself around to tell you what that is, in order to persuade you?” That's where politicians get into a mess.

It's easier for me with you, because you're asking me a straight question and I'm trying to give you a straight answer. I'm not trying to persuade you of anything. I'm not trying to get your support in some proposition. So, it's easier for me to do that now. But in politics it's difficult to do that. You're always conscious of how people are going to react, and so you try to behave in ways that appeal to people, but actually that doesn't work.

Dr. Geffner: Charles, I couldn't agree more. Politicians and leaders have to figure out who they are, because that dictates how they lead.

In fact, in the Executive Master of Leadership program, that is our basic assumption that, "One leads based on who one is." We spend an entire semester focusing on assessments to help individuals go deep and learn more about themselves in order to begin building and integrating their leadership skills with a knowledge of who they are. It's a pleasure to hear that. It's surprising and refreshing.

The Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke:  I'm delighted to hear that's how you construct your leadership program. I'm certain it's the right thing to do.


How Great Leaders and Politicians Manage Change

We're living during a time of unprecedented change. This is affecting everybody. It is causing disruption in nearly every industry. If you missed part one of Dr. Carol Geffner's interview series with The Right Honourable Charles Clarke learn how great leaders and politicians manage change.


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Topics: Leadership Styles, Leadership Skills, Political Leadership

USC Price

Written by USC Price

The USC Price School of Public Policy's Executive Master of Leadership degree program is designed for experienced professionals ready to take their leadership to the next level.

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