Many years ago I worked with a client who was thinking of starting up her own business. She had many talents, and interests with lots to offer. Part of the process of finding out what she wanted to do was to explore her current employment.  Clearly, she had a problem with her relationship with her boss.  Over the weeks we worked together, we were able to transform this relationship and the way we achieved this turns out to be at the heart of authentic leadership.

What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership is a leadership style that emphasizes self-awareness, transparency, and ethical behaviour. According to Northouse (2016), authentic leaders are genuine, honest, and focused on building strong relationships with their followers. They lead with a sense of purpose that is grounded in their values and beliefs and are committed to developing themselves and their followers.

Key Characteristics of Authentic Leadership

While there are many factors which describe authenticity.  There are some key characteristics of authentic leadership involved in the situation with my client.  These are:

1. Self-awareness: Key to authentic leadership

At the heart of authentic leadership is self-awareness. Authentic leaders have a deep understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and values. They are willing to be vulnerable and transparent, acknowledging their flaws and weaknesses. This level of self-awareness enables authentic leaders to build strong relationships with their followers, as they are able to relate to them on a personal level.

2. The right attitude: A factor in authentic leadership

Apart from self-awareness, the right attitude is also a critical factor in leadership. Authentic leaders approach their work with a positive attitude and a growth mindset. They are committed to learning and growing, both personally and professionally, and they encourage their followers to do the same.

3. Transparency: A cornerstone of authentic leadership

Authentic leaders are transparent in their actions and decisions. They communicate openly and honestly with their followers, sharing their thought processes and explaining their decisions. This transparency builds trust and respect among followers, creating a sense of loyalty and commitment to the leader and the organization.

4. Ethics: The foundation of authentic leadership

Authentic leaders are deeply committed to ethical behaviour. They hold themselves to a high standard of integrity, treating others with respect and fairness. They prioritize the well-being of their followers and the organization above personal gain, and they are willing to make difficult decisions that align with their values and beliefs.

Applying The Principles Of Authentic Leadership

Turning back to my client.  Her work environment seemed to be causing her much anxiety. One of the biggest “thorns” in her workplace side was her boss. She knew she was really good at her job. Nevertheless, he overlooked her for promotion and opportunities. She observed that her boss was quite formal. He appeared to treat her differently from others. She told me about a couple of occasions when others had got great work projects and pay raises.  Despite her obvious skills, My client wasn’t considered. Clearly, her relationship with her boss was the main issue for her at work.

Feeling Isolated

The relationship between one particular colleague and the boss made her completely see red. Her boss had a particularly great working relationship with the other female colleague.  Even the little things like her boss saying “good morning” with gusto to this lady felt like a rejection of my client. Observing her boss sharing a laugh and joking with this colleague, made my client feel left out, isolated and unappreciated.

Changing the Lens

When I asked my client to tell me what she thought of her boss she happily let loose on her frustration.  She rattled away about his ability to be divisive, unfair, have favourites, unappreciative, and moody. This list was long and I felt her frustration, disappointment and her sense of being treated unfairly.

I then asked her to put herself in her colleague’s shoes and to think about how she might describe him, given the relationship she had with him.    The light, even at this early stage began to dawn. She started using words like friendly, likeable, amusing, appreciative, and many more being the opposite of her own view. I then asked her if she had ever considered that her colleague might have a more successful relationship with their boss because she saw him in a more positive light.

Attitude sets the tone

I set my client a task for her to go to work and simply view her boss through the eyes of her colleague. Then to self-observe what happened.   I knew this exercise would begin a shift in her narrative about her boss, but even I didn’t anticipate the transformation she experienced.

At the next session, she told me how amazed she was at the difference she found with him when her attitude towards him changed. Without even saying anything to him.  She said he started off smiling at her and began stopping by to have a chat now and then.  He even took her into his office to tell her what a remarkable job she was doing. The penny had dropped. She learned a valuable life lesson.  Our attitudes are pivotal in forming relationships. Authentic leadership is born of such understanding.

Authentic Leadership And Relationships

Bringing authentic leadership to relationships is a crucial aspect of building strong and meaningful connections with others. It requires honing self-awareness, adopting the right attitude, behaving transparently, and acting ethically. By embodying these traits, individuals can develop trust and rapport with others, creating a positive and productive relationship. This is the switch in effect my client made which transformed her relationship with her boss.  This is how she applied the key aspects of authentic leadership to achieve this transformation.

Self Awareness

She looked at the situation in a different way, thereby heightening her self-awareness.  Self-awareness is the first step in bringing authentic leadership to relationships. It involves understanding oneself, including one’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs. With self-awareness, individuals can better understand how they impact others and adjust their behaviour accordingly. This level of self-awareness also enables individuals to be more empathetic and understanding of others, leading to better communication and rapport.

The Right Attitude

With a change of attitude towards her boss, she was able to see him in a different light.  The right attitude is another essential component of authentic leadership in relationships. A positive attitude and growth mindset encourage personal and professional development, both in oneself and in others. It creates an atmosphere of encouragement and support, where individuals can thrive and succeed.


She dropped her mask of negativity and opted for a freeing open way of relating with her boss.  Her ability to put aside her past attitude and communicate in a more open way showed she could practice greater transparency.  Transparency is crucial in building trust and rapport in relationships. It involves open communication and honesty, sharing thoughts and decisions, and accepting feedback. By being transparent, individuals can create a sense of trust and respect, which leads to stronger connections with others.


Finally, she altered her own behaviour, giving her boss the benefit of the doubt and seeing him in a positive light.  She understood her part in creating the relationship. Instead of blaming or doubling down on her initial attitude, she cared enough to do her part in repairing the relationship.  In this way, she applied an ethical stance towards the relationship. Acting ethically is a cornerstone of authentic leadership in relationships. It involves treating others with respect, fairness, and integrity, prioritizing the well-being of others and the relationship above personal gain. Ethical behaviour creates a sense of trust and respect, which leads to stronger connections and positive relationships.

What gets in the way of authentic relationships at work

Human relationships are one of the most fertile, challenging and rewarding areas for developing self-awareness. Relationships are the best training ground for authentic leadership.   Being aware of and actively improving relationships both inside and external to the workplace is the cornerstone of great leadership development.  and authentic leadership.  Relationships must be appreciated for the learning opportunities they hold.

The problem is we look at relationships through the wrong lens mostly. We use relationships to gauge our own or others’ self-worth, or we use them as if there is a hierarchy of good and bad people. We use them to suffer rather than celebrate.

In the workplace, the extent of our discussions about relationships can often be limited to those about contractual terms and conditions. These simply ignore one of the fundamental musts for authentic leadership, personal relationships, and I don’t mean romantic ones!

If only we could just grasp the fact that relationships are learning opportunities which increase the opportunity for authentic leadership, then we would create a much better world and lay the way for much more effective and caring authentic leadership.

Authentic Attitudes To Relationships

For me, some of the authentic leadership lessons, human relationships hold are:

  • Love is our natural state.  That doesn’t mean in a romantic sense.  It’s in a deeply humble and kind recognition,  that it is from a loving place we should treat everyone.  That means showing kindness, seeing the best in everyone and understanding we are all equal.
  • We must recognize that whatever we judge or hate about others often reflects something we dislike in ourselves. This understanding can lead to forgiveness and empathy towards colleagues and ourselves, creating a positive and productive environment. Forgiveness requires self-awareness, vulnerability, and acknowledging our own flaws, but the results can be transformative for individuals and organizations alike.
  • People feel what you are thinking about them, even if they aren’t consciously aware and so honesty is vital – Examine your thought behaviours and patterns as if they were transparent.
  • We often project our own script onto others – True listening and open-mindedness are essential to hearing others and understanding who they are.
  • Fear makes us want to attack.  We also fear attack.  We need to heal our fear and learn to trust ourselves.
  • Everyone is equally as valuable – without exception. Yes some people do bad things and I am not minimising that, and some people do heroically brilliant things. At the heart of who we are, we all have some good, and some bad and the extent of the love or fear we allow in our lives dictates our behaviour.
  • In any given situation perceptions can change. How we perceive others cannot ever be wholly accurate.
  • Withholding judgment of others doesn’t mean not getting out of harm’s way.
  • We are interdependent, no “man” is an island
  • Love is the force which we always uncover if we are open to it.

Authentic leadership principles

Authentic leadership can flourish when it is known that

  • All roles in the workplace are important.  Everyone is valued for the part they play. On a human level, everyone is equally as valuable.
  • People of different abilities and skills will come and go in the workplace equal to the growth of the organisation. Appreciating that there should be healthy relationships for past, present and future employees are essential.
  • The quality of the way teams and individuals view and speak about each other in the workplace needs work and attention. Relationship building should be pivotal in growing and succeeding in the business.
  • People will live up to the leader’s expectations of them.  When operating from authentic leadership, the best is expected.
  • Communication strategies have to be honest, authentic and two-way.
  • People must be encouraged to learn about themselves and others with a view to widening understanding.

This situation demonstrates how the four traits of authentic leadership (self-awareness, the right attitude, transparency, and ethics) can repair a key relationship in the workplace. By applying these traits, the individual was able to rebuild trust and respect, creating a positive and productive relationship.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.