feel they can be themselves in their
work setting. Further, authenticity
allows for greater satisfaction with
and pleasure in work and life in
general. Consequently, authenticity
is an important factor in leadership
Individual authenticity is impor-
tant for organizations because people
who are authentic bring their whole
selves to their jobs and participate
fully and honestly in the workplace.
Managers who put on a false front or
who struggle with feelings of inau-
thenticity sap so much of their energy
doing so that they often find them-
selves depleted and losing interest in
their work. In addition, inauthenticity
can often be recognized by others and
become a disruptive, negative force in
the organization. Organizations that
place a premium on conformity at
the expense of authenticity may be
incurring hidden costs such as a
demoralized staff, whereas organiza-
tions that foster authentic behavior
are more likely to have employees
who are engaged and enthusiastic
and workplaces that are open and
promote trust.
A study that CCL conducted on
the choices and trade-offs facing
high-achieving women managers and
executives (see sidebar) sheds a great
deal of light on authenticity—what it
is, its role in various aspects of peo-
ple’s lives, and how to develop it. In
this article we look at some of the
findings from that study and how
they can help managers and execu-
tives become better leaders by being
more authentic. Although the study
focused exclusively on women, many
of the resulting insights into the rela-
tionship between authenticity and
effective leadership are applicable
to men.
The study found that authenticity has
five defining characteristics, some of
which are interrelated:
Clarity about one’s values, pri-
orities, and preferences
Acceptance of the necessity for
choices and trade-offs in life
A strong sense of self-
A willingness to work toward
aligning one’s values and behaviors
A high degree of comfort and
satisfaction with decisions made
earlier in life
Women who were highest in authen-
ticity were in touch with what was
most important to them and in tune
with their instincts. They could artic-
ulate the choices and trade-offs they
had made about leaving jobs and tak-
ing new ones, balancing work and
personal life, having children, getting
out of bad work or personal situa-
tions, switching careers and manag-
ing dual careers, setting financial
goals, and a range of other issues.
Highly authentic women consciously
designed their lives in accordance
with their top priorities. For example,
one woman said she had decided to
spend more time with her two young
children even though she knew it
would slow her rise through the ranks
of management, whereas another
woman was willing to sacrifice being
on top of every detail as a mother in
order to put in the time to advance
rapidly in her organization. In each
case, the trade-off was one the
woman was willing to make.
Women high in authenticity had
clear understandings of what it would
take for them to be successful in life
according to their own definitions of
success. They lived by their own
standards and rules. This is not to say
that they overtly and purposely defied
societal or organizational conven-
tions, although they did sometimes
swim against the tide. Rather, they
carefully selected the aspects of those
societal and organizational values
they would follow, while finding
ways to maintain their individuality
in their organizations.
Related to this sense of self-
determination was a willingness to
take the steps necessary to align
one’s values and behaviors. Women
who had fought through feelings of
inauthenticity had often faced a situ-
ation that called their authenticity
into question, whether it was work-
ing for a boss whom they considered
unethical or working in a field that
didn’t interest them.
One woman made a career change
at age forty to better align her work
with her values and priorities.
Christine had been a well-paid infor-
mation technology manager for a
large industrial company, but helping
the company make more and better
widgets held little meaning for her.
She wanted to pursue a career more
closely related to helping people and
had always dreamed of working in
an educational setting, so she
accepted a pay cut to take an IT job
at a university. Christine felt her new
work was meaningful and the
school’s mission was in line with her
set of values. She accepted the lower
pay as a trade-off necessary to
regaining her sense of authenticity.
That feeling of authenticity was bol-
Marian N. Ruderman is a
research scientist at CCL in
Greensboro. She holds a
Ph.D. degree from the
University of Michigan.
Sharon Rogolsky, a visiting
scholar at Harvard Business
School, previously was a
research analyst at CCL in
Greensboro. She holds sev-
eral master’s degrees from
Yale University.

Get Getting Real: How to Lead Authentically now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.