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This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Are you clear on what it takes to be an authentic leader?

Authentic leadership is an approach that focuses on building strong relationships by being open and honest and truly yourself. Authentic leaders are positive, for the most part; however, when their ethics are being compromised they push back quickly and passionately.

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This microskill focuses on the practice of daily activities that support authentic leadership.

To be motivated to develop this microskill you need to see the value of authentic leadership and determine whether it's an area you want to improve. The goal is not to practice just another leadership philosophy but to focus on being a real, authentic leader. People who live their lives being authentic are willing to do the hard work necessary and are motivated to improve the lives of the people they support.

Authentic leaders are not passive observers; they are committed to influencing their story. They are dedicated to being self-aware and willing to put themselves in positions that are challenging. They are open to criticism and honest feedback.

Here are four accepted attributes found in authentic leaders:

Self-aware and genuine – There's a high level of self-awareness with respect to their strengths, weaknesses, emotions and limitations. They are comfortable with who they are and with others knowing who they are.

Lead with their heart – They express and show emotions. They are vulnerable and open in how they interact with their employees. Most days, they create strong connections with people. They are known to be direct when they communicate and critical when outcomes are not achieved. At the core, their people know they have empathy and don't want to cause a disturbance unnecessarily. It's clear to onlookers that they are driven to achieve goals that benefit everyone, not just their own self-interest.

Focus is on the long game They are committed to win and understand why it's important to look at the long term and not just hyper-focus on short-term goals. They are known as hard workers, with patience, drive and persistence. They understand that with hard work comes large returns, but that that takes time.

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Driven to achieve the mission – They are willing to put the goals of the organization ahead of their own when they believe in the mission. To them and onlookers their goals are clear and you know why they wake up each day. They do what they do not just for money or power but for a greater good.

How to be more authentic

As a leader, if you see value in learning to be more authentic, the good news is that with the hard comes the good. Being genuine is not always popular. Providing it's authentic and the right thing, your team, clients and you know that any difficult decision is grounded in a higher purpose beyond than your self-interests.

Awareness – There's value in getting to understand your personality, which is how you filter and interact with the world. One option is to complete a personality quick screen. Study your results and discuss them with two trusted confidantes. The goal is to increase your self-awareness around how your personality may be influencing how others perceive you. It's rare to be able to change our personality. That's why it's helpful to consider how your natural style supports you or how you may need to adapt if you want to be an authentic leader.

Accountability – Being an authentic leader can be hard when it's not popular. Authentic leaders are willing to tell senior leaders, peers, employees and clients what they think is right, not what they think others want. Ultimately, being an authentic leader means taking responsibility for your thinking and actions.


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· Read the above four attributes and ask how authentic you believe you are as a leader.

· Each day, pick one attribute to focus on. If you see any gaps in your coping skills you may benefit from some personal development or even executive coaching.

· For the next 12 weeks, self-evaluate each of the attributes on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high). Keep a log so you can compare how you are doing.

· Consider including your staff in the process. Encourage them to provide you feedback on a bi-weekly basis on each of the four attributes and compare their scores to yours. It takes courage, but that's being genuine and authentic.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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