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The Top 3 Traits of Authentic Leaders (And How To Embody Them)

Leadership - Authenticity - Embodiment

If you’ve ever wanted to thrive as a strong leader with a commanding presence, then the best way to do it is from a place of authenticity. Authenticity, after all, is the one sure-fire way to demonstrate confidence, certainty, and build trust - in the most natural way possible. I believe this is the one ingredient that is all too commonly missing in leadership these days, and so I’ve come up with this powerful 3-step method, to help you develop unmatched authenticity and achieve stronger, more effective leadership.

Authenticity is the key to being an effective leader. Whilst you may have models you can look up to for inspiration, your ultimate leadership style should come from within. With authenticity comes presence, and if you want people to truly be inspired to follow your lead, then this is the only path for you.

This is the method that I share with my clients to develop their authentic leadership presence – and it works! Even if you aren’t used to doing things this way.

So read on to learn more and you'll be dialed in on how to leverage your authenticity towards leadership success.

Leadership - Authenticity - Career Success

The 3 Step Method

Step 1: Learn More About Yourself

In the words of John C Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

It may sound textbook, but you’d be surprised to hear how many of my clients who are new to developing authenticity miss this crucial first step – getting to know yourself. It’s essential when learning how to then lead others. Doesn't it make sense to fully comprehend the full version of yourself – your values, strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities, before then helping others to do the same? This is the first simple step towards authentic leadership, but ironically, the reason why a lot of people fail.

So here are 3 core tips for getting started with discovering yourself on a deeper level:

  1. Take some time for introspection. Try to get an understanding of who you are at your core. What makes you feel alive? What are your values and what is important to you? How can you better improve the lives of those around you?

  2. Once you take the time to ponder the questions above, be confident in what sets you apart. This will help you attain your unique brand of leadership presence that only you will be able to execute. Step into your power and own your unique way of having a positive influence on others.

  3. And that brings us to the most vital concept to discover yourself more deeply: be honest with yourself. Authenticity comes from sharing your true thoughts, emotions, and actions in any given moment. That begins with us being real with ourselves, so we then act naturally with others.

*According to a survey by the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council, members reported self-awareness as the most vital skill for leaders to develop. This speaks to how impactful knowing yourself can be in igniting a passion for change in others.

Leadership - Authenticity - Service

Step 2: Understand the Needs of Others

Once you understand yourself, you then need to understand the needs of others. In understanding this fully, you will then know how to deliver your leadership based on the needs of others.

Authentic leadership is about understanding what people want or seek and aligning yourself with their desires. That way, you will be providing them all the tools they need to help you, help them, succeed.

I understand that it may not be as easy for some to intuitively understand the needs of others. But there are techniques you can apply to help you with this:

  • Dispel any preconceptions you may have upon meeting someone new. Give yourself the opportunity to truly find out who a person is with an open mind. By doing so, you are projecting a level of respect that the other person will pick up on and respond to. This demonstrates 2 layers of authenticity – 1) in showing genuine interest at the moment, and 2) in taking in information that will allow you to better lead them in the future.

  • Listen to understand and respond instead of reacting. Whilst it’s true that leaders should guide others in the right direction, and that necessarily involves an element of assertiveness, a balanced approach must be taken in the conversation dynamic. One-sided leadership where the leader talks and everyone else listens is never going to achieve as good long-term outcomes as a balanced dynamic.

  • Be direct and courageous. Nothing echoes leadership like speaking up and getting to the point. Authentic leaders don't shy away when they have something to say. Authenticity stems from being honest with yourself, and others, as discussed above – even if it's uncomfortable. Take this attitude into every interaction, with the aim of nurturing growth in those around you. This could be seen as the hard part of leadership, but it’s where your authenticity can shine. At the end of the day, as a leader, it’s your duty to highlight new insights and awareness to help a person learn and grow.

Leadership - Authenticity - Embodiment - Inspire

And last but the most crucial...

Step 3: Inspire by Example

This is the step where you put all the theory about yourself and others into practice. Leading with authenticity and inspiring by example may take some getting used to. But remember, all you are doing is being YOU. Theoretically speaking, how hard can it be? Being you is all anyone can ever ask of you, and the sooner you understand and apply this, the sooner you will be recognised for the unique and admirable qualities that you have.

I know with our busy lives, we can too easily forget our values and what we stand for. The secret to holding true to them is constantly reminding yourself of who you are, the value you can bring, and what you’ve achieved to show yourself what you’re truly capable of.

One strategy that I teach my clients is visualisation and trigger statements. Before you start your workday, enter that all-important meeting, or an awkward conversation with a colleague, try to envision the type of leader and example you want to be, and repeat statements that help you get into that zone. For example:

  • “I am a strong confident leader who is sure of my strengths and how I want to lead”. Or,

  • “I am sure of who I am as a leader and the values I want to portray”

Leadership - Authenticity - Growth - Success

Now that you know who you are, how to help others, and how to inspire by example, I challenge you to put it all into practice. Share that new idea you’ve been working on with your coworkers. Try to be more proactive, and step outside of your comfort zone by calling an impromptu meeting with your team on how you can all bring in new ways to tackle projects together. Inject your unique brand of leadership style and presence in all that you do – even if it’s a little different from the norm. You could be surprised with the outcome and have introduced something new that your organisation or business could stand to benefit from.

This is my simple 3-step method for fast-tracking your way into being a powerful leader grounded in authenticity. Now that you know how to take your leadership skills to a whole new level, there’s one thing left for you to do:


Nicole Schmitz is a certified leadership coach, trained psychologist, and lawyer. She is the Founder of The Leadership X-Factor, which enables senior corporate executives and entrepreneurs to speak up, be seen, and get ahead in their careers and lives.

To discover more about how you can authentically lead in a way that’s true to the values you’d like to share with the world, get in touch for a commitment-free discussion.

Nicole Schmitz- Founder of The Leadership X-Factor

Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Reference link- Stanford survey article, “Self-Awareness: A key to Better Leadership”

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