The trouble with Authentic Leadership

I had a meeting last week about coaching, the individual had recently been appointed to a leadership position in a large organisation, but were struggling with “Impostor Syndrome” in showing leadership in the prevailing organisational culture.

What this conversation and potentially the coaching relates to is a highly authentic individual struggling to self identify as a leader in a highly “boss style” culture.

I am increasingly of the belief that many, perhaps even most leaders are in fact authentic, but due to the prevailing culture and a lack of support, training or understanding, they show up as boss style leaders.

Let me explain.

Boss style leaders are those who are primarily motivated by status.  They get their status conferred on them from above and are loyal to those who give them status.  They, in turn, gain loyalty by conferring status on those below them.  Boss style leaders are not good at collaborating unless it helps to build their status or that of their own boss.  Boss style leaders are good at getting things done, but they only achieve results by stealing from the future.

Authentic leaders are those primarily motivated by purpose they create results by aligning teams and getting the best out of people by creating an environment where they can be the best version of themselves.  They create environments of psychological safety and trust where it is safe to experiment and be vulnerable.  Authentic leaders can take longer to achieve things, but the results are sustainable.

Boss style leaders don’t recognise authentic leaders as leaders at all.  They see them as weak.

So – if you are, at heart an authentic style leader, but all of your role models are boss style, it is not surprising if you don’t think of yourself as a leader.  It is also not surprising if, in the absence of alternative input and appointed to a leadership position, a natural, but uncertain authentic leader would adopt boss style behaviours, especially if other bosses around them dismissed authentic leadership as weak.

Our path to authentic leadership is therefore challenging.  In many places the existing leadership culture is actively resistant to it, there are few role models and it is not always easy to find teachers.

What helps is to focus on purpose.  What is it that you are really trying to achieve – your vision?  And why is that important to you – your purpose?

As long as your purpose can be aligned to that of your organisation you can lead authentically in it.  The next step is to think about how you need to be in order to deliver on that purpose and vision.

As long as you can get your team to follow, this forms the basis of your leadership – the “why” and the “what” with the behavioural part of the “how”.  This is the framework that you need to embody and keep explaining – What, we are trying to achieve.  Why, is it important.  How, we need to be in order to deliver it.  As the leader you don’t need to be the author of any of this, but you do need to make sure it is clear and that the team are aligned around it.

The team can then work out  and own the mechanics of the strategy to achieve it.  While you, as the leader encourage, stay out of the way, provide “air cover” and look out for the future.

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239






About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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