SERVANT Leadership Principle: Authentic

The servant leadership principles include Authenticity. Authenticity enables transparency and reveals leaders to be the same person in public and private. See examples from the movie The Post, Rand Fishkin, and Michael Hyatt. We also cover attributes like Credibility, Collaboration, Awareness, and more.
The servant leadership principles icon: AUTHENTIC. The authenticity icon is a person with a big checkmark in front of them as though validating them as authentic. To the right is a collection of smaller icons for the other principles and the words: SERVANT Leadership Principle - AUTHENTIC.

Background: This post is part of a series defining the principles of The Acronym Model of Servant Leadership®️ (SelflessEmpatheticResoluteVirtuousAuthenticNonpartisan, and Thorough). For more, visit the overview at this link or sign up for the free online course, Servant Leadership 101.

The next principle in The Acronym Model of SERVANT Leadership®️ is Authentic. Authenticity is all about transparency. A great leader is the same in private as they are in public. What they speak behind closed doors matches what they say on stage. The authentic servant leader is consistent in message and transparent in intent.

 

There is no gossip. Speaking about someone should include only a message you would say to them directly. Often, it is a strong message from the servant leader that makes it clear gossip and it’s cousin – dirty politics, are forbidden in their organization.

What Authenticity Looks Like

Authenticity is revealed by leaders who say what they can, when they can say it. A leader is often placed in a position of confidential information. Examples may include pending investments, divestitures, hiring or outsourcing decisions. When dealing with sensitive matters, the servant leader often says, “Here’s what I can share…”. Then she may go on to say, “I can not share information related to the following topics… because…”. The point is, stakeholders of the leader understand the need for confidential information from time to time. However, they must be able to count on the leader to share as much as possible as soon as possible, This is authenticity through transparency.

In this scene from the movie, The Post, Ben explains how the two characters, debating whether to leverage personal relationships, demonstrate authenticity.

The humility aspect of a servant leader is also revealed in authenticity. A servant leader is never afraid to say, “I don’t know”. The leader who is authentic is less concerned with the perceptions of others and more concerned with the content of their character. A servant leader is not afraid to weep, in the right circumstances. The authentic leader feels the pain through the empathy they possess. The authentic servant leader never tries to be that which they are not.

What Authentic is Not

Authenticity does not require wearing your heart on your sleeve, but some may. The authentic leader must remain strong in times of trouble, but it does not mean they cannot share their fears. This authenticity is also no excuse for a lack of knowledge. It may be an explanation for that lack of knowledge, but the leader must resolve to get answers quickly and follow through with resolve.

 

Perhaps most important, authenticity is never a false front. The leader who pretends to be something they are not will lose their following when revealed. Authenticity is not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite – authenticity requires the strength and confidence to be vulnerable. Therefore, authenticity will not turn away authentic followers, only the disingenuous.

Authenticity Servant Leadership Videos

These videos highlight examples of authenticity in leaders and / or tools you can use to help build authenticity in yourself and those you serve. For the latest list of Authenticity videos, visit our youtube playlist on authenticity.

Playlist

3 Videos

Attributes of Authenticity for Servant Leaders

Previous servant leadership models defined many authentic attributes as important to servant leaders. These include the following from Spears and others1, Frick & Sipe2 as well as Russell & Stone (2002)3.

  • Honesty (Russell & Stone)
  • Credibility (Russell & Stone)
  • Persuasion (Russell & Stone)
  • Compassionate Collaborator (Frick & Sipe)
  • Displays a Servant’s Heart (Frick & Sipe)
  • Displays Creativity (Frick & Sipe)
  • Awareness (Spears)

Examples of Authentic Servant Leaders

Michael Hyatt sits on a bench, leaning forward and looking off to his left with a big smile. His hands are crossed on his lap and he wears a dark suit with a light button-down shirt.

Michael Hyatt

When Michael Hyatt was the CEO of Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, he was also among the most popular bloggers and social media pundits. Online, Hyatt's followers gleamed insight into both his personal and professional life. While leading a faith-based, for-profit company, it is important to be transparent. His transparency revealed that his family life was not perfect, but it was faith-based. He was the same man inside the office and out.

Rand Fishkin speaks as he gestures with his hands in front of a bright purple backdrop. Rand has a salt-and-pepper beard with handlebar mustache and an intense look in his eyes.

Rand Fishkin

Mr. Fishkin is the co-founder of Moz, the inbound marketing software company and Inbound.org, a community forum for inbound marketers. You don't need to understand what he does to appreciate what he did. As the self-title "Wizard of Moz", Rand put their philosophy of transparency into action. He put his performance review online for all to see. In it, you see he was fairly critical of himself and as candid as one may expect. The next time you struggle with how to lead by example, in the principle of authenticity, consider sharing your own performance review.

Question: Which attribute of authenticity do you believe is most important for servant leaders?

References:

1. Spears, Larry: Power of Servant Leaders (Greenleaf, Spears, 1998); Servant Leadership: A Journey into… (Greenleaf, Spears, 2002); and more
2. Sipe, James W. & Frick, Don M.: Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing… (2009)
3. Russell, Robert F. & Stone, Gregory A.: A Review of Servant Leadership Attributes: Developing… (Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 2002)

Read More About The Acronym Model of SERVANT Leadership®️

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

2 thoughts on “SERVANT Leadership Principle: Authentic”

  1. Great article. I have had a hard time putting my finger on what, exactly, made the greatest leaders I have ever known stand out from the rest. It has been authenticity. Authenticity in leadership is a lot like oxygen: When it’s there, it seems unremarkable, but when it’s not, everyone suffers.

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