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The importance of authenticity in leadership

Why is authenticity so important to be an effective school leader? This article looks at the importance of authenticity in leadership.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

What’s most important in a leader?

Research by (2006) suggests, not unexpectedly, that leaders need vision, energy, authority and strategic direction.

Goffee and Jones go on to list the following attributes for effective leaders:

  • Effective leaders are authentic. They know themselves and what they stand for. They know their own strengths and their weaknesses. They show consistency between words and deeds whatever the circumstances and whatever their roles, and they are comfortable in their own skins.
  • Effective leaders have a very clear sense of purpose. They know the direction in which the organisation needs to go, and they communicate this with great care. They are very good at persuading people to join them in getting there.
  • Effective leaders empower their followers – so that they, too, share the satisfaction of achieving this goal.
  • Effective leaders are good at managing social boundaries. They need to generate warmth and loyalty but also to be goal-focused and to address poor performance.
  • Effective leaders stress that providing meaning for followers is more important than mere results.

Interestingly, though, they go on to say some things that are less expected.

They note, for example, that organisations often structure themselves in a way that kills leadership by promoting those who overestimate their ability to lead or are ambitious for disingenuous reasons.

The qualities of inspirational leaders

Truly inspirational leaders, Goffee and Jones say, tend to share four unexpected qualities:

  • They selectively show their weaknesses. Provided these are not matters of fundamental importance, and ability to confess to fallibility reveals humanity and approachability and helps establish trust, collaboration and an atmosphere of solidarity.
  • They are good, intuitive situation sensors. Leadership is situational, and top leaders quickly sense shifts in attitudes and group dynamics. They can tell what’s going on (and so influence it) without anyone having to spell it out for them.
  • They practise tough empathy. They care about their people because those people are important to them – but they don’t make a fuss about showing that they care. They give people what they need, not necessarily what they want.
  • They reveal their differences. They capitalise on what is unique about themselves – whether this is an area of expertise or merely a personal characteristic or mannerism. They show themselves to be different without being self-aggrandising or out of touch with the realities facing their followers.

Goffee and Jones also stress that this does not constitute a recipe to follow. Faking it (trying to copy others) is guaranteed to lead to inauthenticity. This is why their core advice is, ‘Be yourself – more – with skill.’


Goffee, R., & Jones, G. (2006). Why should anyone be led by you? What it takes to be an authentic leader Harvard Business School Press

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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