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Authentic Leadership – Who is Showing up for Work?

January 07 2019 - by Alicia Wellington, Public Management Consultant, Ministry of Public Administration, Trinidad & Tobago and an Alumna of CLP's Leadership Development Programme

I have never given much thought to the theory that we have two sides to our personality the “work me” and the “real me”, until I was confronted with that dilemma after recently completing a performance appraisal interview with one of my subordinates.  The lack of awareness of this phenomenon appears to be true of many leaders, who in their quest to fit into their leadership role or build a strong professional identity conceal who they really are, and adopt an alternative persona (work personality).  Such leaders may soon discover that they are often misunderstood, not well liked, and don’t engender the trust of their employees.

I am the leader of a church-affiliated community group of approximately thirty five (35) persons.  Since assuming leadership in February 2018, the group has experienced exponential growth in membership, and barely a week goes by without a member endorsing my leadership.  However, on the job the leadership challenges seem insurmountable. 

I recall John Maxwell in his book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership advised that one of the ways to find the best leaders in an organization is to “ask candidates to lead a volunteer organization for six months…if those leaders can get people to follow them when they have no leverage – then you know that they can influence others.  That is the mark of true leadership ability."   But what accounts for that level of influence, and how then is it not transferred into the work environment?  I believe that the answer lies partly in who is showing up to work – is it the authentic me? Am I portraying my true self in my leadership role in the community group and not at work? This dichotomy requires further exploration.

Authentic leadership has been defined in various ways, but I am partial to Billy Byrne’s definition which states that “authentic leaders are very self-aware and have a strong personal value system.  They also lead from a position of trust and connect with others at a very personal level. Organisationally, they are mission-driven and adopt a long-term perspective.”   In my community group, I have actively demonstrated these qualities, and as a consequence, we have been successful in achieving positive outcomes.

This is a far contrast to the results I have obtained on my job where I supervise four (4) persons.  In the work environment, for self-preservation I found it necessary (or so I thought), for the other persona to show up.  There, I am introverted, less engaging, and do not display vulnerability. This persona is really at odds with my natural self, and has negatively impacted the team’s outcomes.  In these circumstances, I have realized little success in building a cohesive unit.

Therefore, in spite of my apparent success with my community group, my contradiction in behaviour in the differing environments strikes at the very heart of the tenets of authentic leadership. So then, what steps must I take to become an authentic leader and thus, harmonize my real self and my work persona?

Becoming an Authentic Leader

The internet is full of literature on becoming an authentic leader which readers can explore. However, I have learnt that leadership is about influence, and I am discovering that authentic leadership is about having authentic relationships and behaving consistently - regardless of the environmental context. As such, I propose the following:

  • Increase self-awareness;
  • Establish more connected relationships in the workplace;
  • Display relational transparency (vulnerability); and
  • Accept support from my leadership and learning communities

Do you have further suggestions to assist me on my journey? Have you given any thought to your own journey as an authentic leader?  I would love to hear your insights.

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David - Reply


Very insightful piece Alicia. Do continue your journey in authentic leadership with this refreshing openness that you have displayed. You are on the right track.

Kevar williams - Reply

I do understand and empathise with the dilema faced by the writer. I too would have faced similar situations. Sime of the reasons for such toxic relationships may be proffessional hurt. 

What has inspired my leadership is the desire to make a difference and being self aware and utilising my strengths to influence persons to do some self reflection with the aim to engender changes in behavior. 

Lionel Hernandez - Reply

Authentic leadership is the "golden rule".

Avian - Reply

I really appreciate this blog as it allows for introspection on the roles we play in the work environment and in our own relationship-building with our peers. I do feel though that environmental factors may tend to contribute to the way we are perceived by others, through no fault of ours. In the workplace there are always disagreements, power struggles, ulterior motives, competition, grapevine communication etc; and these tend to hamper the relationship that we form with our colleagues/team. However, I hope that as you increase your self-awareness and seek establish deeper relationships with your peers, that it helps you to transcend the challenges currently faced. Please keep us abreast on your journey to authentic leadership.

Kudos to you and this great piece! :)

Bridget - Reply

The challenges one faces in striving to be an authentic leader in the workplace are not the same as those encountered in the church environment even though there a dichotomy may also exist.

One of the challenge is the acceptance of wrong/unethical work habits by other leaders in the work environment thus creating the attempt to walk the fine line between being sympathetic to subordinates' situations yet instilling and encouraging correct work values. 

Another challenge is when one encounters the issue of favouritism which is openly displayed. As an authentic leader you may seek to influence change and growth in your subordinates however your efforts are quickly rebuffed because the status quo has been set and adopted. Change is never easy

However, it is my view that you must be true to yourself. Press on let the 'real you' become visible. It will not be easy but I think that if you persist eventually you will make a difference.

You also need to bear in mind that not everyone within your work environment has the same perspective of leadership as you.  In trying to fit  in with an environment you met the dichotomy of real versus work may occur when your convictions are being challenged. The steps you intend to take will be a start but your influence on the environment as a whole will also have to be addressed before you can truly see the impact of the 'real you' on those you lead.

Remember to do the best you can with all that you have wherever you are. His strength is available.


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