The authenticity leader: the lynchpin to setting the moral compass


Financier Worldwide Magazine

May 2018 Issue

Authenticity is rapidly becoming the most important aspect of effective leadership. The reason why lies in what makes an authentic leader. What are the characteristics of the authentic leader? What is the cause and effect of this type of leadership? And is authenticity inherent or learned?

If one looks in the dictionary for a definition of authenticity, words like credible, reliable, trustworthy, dependable, honest and authoritative are all there. So let us delve deeper into authenticity by taking a look at each of these qualities.


Trust is the basic building block of any relationship. Without trust, there is no relationship. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together.

Leadership is the cause of a lack of trust, as well as the depth of any existing trust. It is a choice, but it must be an informed choice. Leadership should not be based on what one person thinks is right or wrong. The authentic leader knows that the process must be an inclusive one, derived from cause and effect, for it is in this process that trust develops.

There are a number of questions we can reflect on each day to help build trust with other people. Did I practice any virtues today? Was I more positive than negative in my attitude and behaviour? Did I treat people with dignity and respect? How did I practice justice today? Did I make my organisation better because I was there today?


How does a leader become credible in the eyes of his or her people? Remember that ‘people listen with their eyes, not with their ears’. What one does as a leader is more important than what one says. Credibility is in the behaviour of the leader, as credibility is a result of trust. This is where, like it or not, perceptions determine attitudes and attitudes determine behaviour. Rightly or wrongly, it just is. So, to be credible is to be believed. To be credible is also to be reliable, sincere and dependable. The test for credibility is in how consistent, affirming and empowering a leader is, and how consistently he or she acts like it.

Think about these questions. What really makes you a credible leader? How would you know? Is that what others think or say about you? Did you even ask your people this question? The reality is, just because you think you are credible does not really mean that you are. The only thing that makes you credible is how consistently you treat people with respect and openness.


The only quality that actually builds reliability is being consistent. The question is: consistent in what?

Think about your leadership style. Do you keep confidentiality? Do you keep your word when you say you will? Are you consistent with the rules, the modus operandi and the treatment of your people? Do you make exceptions to the rule without explanation? When you say, ‘you can trust me’, can they? What would that look like to you or to the other person? How do you empower your people? What does that look like in the workplace?

The real issue with being credible is that it takes time, effort, sacrifice and perseverance to build it, and only one questionable incident to destroy it. Reliability is a quality a leader wants from his or her employees. They deserve the same from their leader.


Can anyone be truly honest about everything? While this is a tough question to ask, it is a quality that leaders want from their people and their people have a right to expect from their leader. But do they get it?

Dishonesty is often motivated by fear. Fear of what someone may do, think, say or not do, not say and so on. How do you, as a leader, handle the ‘fear factor’ with your people? It is easy to say, ‘please tell me the truth’. The tough part is when you do not agree with them or take offence. What the leader does next is crucial to which way the working relationship goes. If that answer is found unacceptable by the leader and the leader disputes the information given, what is the incentive for others to tell their truth when asked?

As a leader, remember that everyone speaks their truth. It may not be the truth, but it is their truth. Therefore, at this point, it is valid and honest. How a leader responds is the key to whether or not honesty is appreciated and becomes ‘the way we operate around here’. Usually the leader gets only one chance to prove that honesty is appreciated; and that is the first time. After that, word spreads, positively or negatively, based on how the leader responded.


Power can be a ‘maker or breaker’ of authenticity. In our experience, there are two types of power: authoritative and authoritarian.

Authoritarian power empowers oneself at the cost of the other. It is self serving as it uses fear to get obedience. It commands and does not invite. To command is to settle for behaviour change. No value change or understanding is needed.

Authoritative power empowers others through service for others. They are chosen by their peers. They do not force themselves, but gain our trust. They invite and do not command. To invite is to recognise the value of the other person.

We each have experience of these in our school education experience. For example, can you remember the worst teacher you ever had? That teacher was often a reflection of authoritarian power. Relationships were not as important as covering the assigned material.

Now think about the best teacher you ever had. This teacher was probably an example of authoritative power. They were empowering, took time for you, made you feel that you were more important than finishing the work, raised the bar of what you could really accomplish, were tough but fair and had a sense of humour, among other things. What happened when this teacher was absent? Morale took a hit because the leader was gone.

This may be a simplification of the distinction between the two types of power, but the message is clear and has leadership implications.

Authentic leadership requires, if not demands, only authoritative power. The question is: how does one get to that stage of leadership? The answer is by fostering trustworthiness, credibility, honesty and reliability.


Frank Bucaro is the founder of Frank C. Bucaro & Associates. He can be contacted on +1 (630) 483 2276 or by email:

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