Finding Your Leadership Secret Sauce

Secret Sauce

Authentic leaders inspire us.  They build strong teams with complimentary skill sets. They drive high levels of trust and commitment in the groups they lead.  

Authentic leaders can generate results over the long-term.

What Makes an Authentic Leader?

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill GeorgePeter SimsAndrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer discuss the research they conducted on how leaders become authentic leaders.

What did they find?  The found that there is no secret leadership sauce.

After interviewing these individuals, we believe we understand why more than 1,000 studies have not produced a profile of an ideal leader.

Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see that these people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success.  – Discovering Your Authentic Leadership

Many of us strive to be a successful leader.  Unfortunately, sometimes conventional wisdom and corporate culture conspire to steer us in the direction of the generic leader.

We may think “Jane in Accounting is successful – I’ll try to be more like Jane”. Or “Steve Jobs was awesome, I will do more of that.”

You will never become an authentic leader by emulating others.  When we describe authentic leaders, we use words like “genuine,” “real” and “true.”  You can’t become any of those things be trying to be someone else.

Inherent in authenticity is leading on your own terms in a way that is aligned with your personal values and beliefs.

How to Be an Authentic Leader?

Authentic leaders know themselves and use their self awareness, life experience and passions as a foundation.

 “The medium for developing into an authentic leader is not the destination but the journey itself – a journey to find your true self and the purpose of your life’s work.” – Bill George, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value

Are you developing as an authentic leader?  Here are some ideas to help you on the journey:

1. Write your Leadership Philosophy

Make the link between how you want to lead and the personal values that guide your life.  Once you have it written down, share it with others.  Need some inspiration?  Listen to a few personal credos at

This I Believe, Inc. was founded in 2004 as an independent, not-for-profit organization that engages people of all ages and  from all walks of life in writing and sharing of brief essays about the core values that guide their daily lives.

It is a great resource to help you find and articulate your core beliefs.

2. Turn Your Passion into Inspiration

Authentic leaders know and can articulate the passion that drives their life.  They can use this passion to light the fire of inspiration in those they lead.  Howard Schultz is a great example of how an authentic leader inspires.

  • He tells his personal story often.
  • He is the son of a struggling blue-collar worker.
  • He grew up in the Brooklyn projects.
  • He experienced what life was like without enough money and without health insurance.
  • He had a vision of neighborhood coffee houses and building an ethically responsible company that cared for it employees (actually called “Partners”) and provides benefits to part-time workers.

3. Cultivate “Professional Intimacy”

Authenticity comes from knowing and accepting who you really are.  This includes accepting both your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect or infallible and we don’t trust people who pretend to be either of those things. Let people get to know you.

Be willing to reveal some things about yourself that are not perfect.  You don’t have to give the people at work a blow-by-blow of deep personal problems, but you could talk about common day-to-day struggles.

I worked with a highly authentic C-level executive who had a great story about how hard it was for her, personally, to relocate.  I heard her tell it numerous times.

It let people get to know her, without revealing details that would make – or the listener – uncomfortable.

4. Do What You Say You Will Do (DWYSYWD)

Authentic leaders follow-through. Simply stated, your team will judge your credibility by the degree to which your words and actions align.  That’s not all.  The simple practice of attention to follow through generates big business results.

Tony Simmons, Cornell Professor and author of The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word, found that in organizations where employees believe that managers follow through on promises were substantially more profitable than organizations whose managers scored average or below average to follow-through.

These organizations also enjoyed deeper employee commitment, lower turnover and superior customer service.

Remembering the Clock

Finally, make sure you have left yourself the time to be authentic.  Are the things you call important the things you give your time, effort and energy?  Is your calendar aligned to your leadership philosophy?  If the answer is no, you must correct this disconnect.

Authenticity is a journey of self-discovery.  We are all unique and every person takes a different path.

Are you on a journey to become an authentic leader?  What are you doing to develop? Are there specific life experiences that have helped mold you as authentic leader?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Gary Banks on March 29, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Great article! I loved the summary of the HBR piece and the four points of authentic leadership. I plan to write my own leadership philosophy over the weekend. To your point, my first sales manager used to say. “I don’t care what you do, Just do what you your gonna do.” I’m now following you on Twitter and i look forward to reading more of your work.


    • Melissa Lanier on April 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks so much! Leadership really is a journey and I believe we can share what we learn along the way.

  2. Tom Schulte on March 29, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Outstanding article, Melissa!! LOVE.

  3. Ben Morton on March 29, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Great article with a lot of truth. Field Marshall Slim once said ‘leadership is the simplest thing in the world because its just plain you.’ True, so long as you know ‘you’ and your leadership philosophy.

    • Melissa Lanier on April 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve written my philosophy – and then made some changes as I’ve learned more abut what really works for me.