Karin’s Leadership Articles

Authenticity is risky. When you lead from your heart, feedback stings brighter. It takes courage to think (and even more to say) to those in positions of power, “Thank you, I understand you, I choose not to lead that way.”

I’ve said that.

These potentially vital words are treacherous on two fronts. First, you may be missing an important point. Maybe you should be leading differently. Or, even if you know deep in your heart how you’re leading is “right”, the “system” may reject your style. You may not fit in. If values are truly misaligned, something must go, and the system’s bigger than you.

In a world of performance potential grids, and the “gift” of feedback under every tree, when must you say “no?”

As we turn toward the third branch of the REAL model. Authenticity, I asked leaders across many contexts to help wrestle with this sensitive topic.
“How do you balance staying true to your core leadership values when you’re pressured to lead a different way?”

I heard stories of authenticity with happy and sad endings from large corporations, small businesses, volunteer gigs, and churches. And then the offering,

“I think that the balance you’re looking to maintain is impossible without some sacrifices.”

Be sure YOU choose what to sacrifice.

4 Sacrifices of Inauthenticity

Yes, there are sacrifices to true authenticity. But the sacrifices of faking it are greater. The world is full of fakers that crash and burn. Build your leadership on a firm foundation.

  1. Results – I’m going to assume the deeply held values you’re clinging to are producing a track record of sustained results. If not, open your heart again and consider changing your approach. Great results come from a deeply committed team inspired toward a vital vision. If you’ve got that in spades, beware of disrupting that flow. If you’re busy worrying about what others will think, you’re likely to choke. Sure, there’s danger in swimming up-stream, but results buy freedom.
  2. Energy – Working to maintain appearances drains vital energy. To be at your very best you need every ounce of energy focused on your vision and team. Investing that energy in political games or maintaining a facade takes your life force out of the game.
  3. Followers – Human beings want to follow people they trust. Your team has a highly calibrated BS meter. Stop leading with integrity and courage, and people will know. The dangerous truth is that they may appear to be with you. Inauthenticity is contagious. The good news, so is authenticity.
  4. Health – Nothing’s more stressful than leading a lie. If you’re more interested in being promoted than supporting your team, but “act” like a servant leader, your body will retaliate.

    Real authenticity will involve sacrifice. So will faking it. You decide.

Real leadershipAuthenticity is the third branch of the REAL model. Don’t miss another post, enter your email address and join the conversation of this interactive community growing together.

Thanks to the collaborative thinking of members of the Lead Change, Lead with Giants, and Center For Creative Leadership communities for your inspiring discussion on this topic. Looking forward to the comments of the LGL community. Namaste.

*Photo by Larry Kohlenstein

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    I get a big serotonin hit when I see authenticity in action.

    It’s rare. Extremely.

    So, when authenticity crosses my path, I sit and enjoy the experience.


  2. Jeff Davis

    I’ve also been strongly impacted by both authentic and inauthentic leaders.

    Some of the most authentic have been willing to be vulnerable – either simply with me in a one-to-one conversation. Or in front of a group – not acting, but just being.

    I remember one time at work we were disappointed in the results of a project, and we were doing a ‘post-mortem’ to discuss what went wrong. Instead we should have been mourning, it was too early to try to figure out what went wrong – we didn’t have enough distance from the project yet, and our emotions were raw.

    Our team leader started to speak, but got choked up and began to cry quietly – all the while saying, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.” At first, we didn’t know if she was saying she was sorry for her part in the project failure, or if she was sorry she was crying in front of us. But she soon clarified that she was simply feeling sad, truly mourning, that our collective efforts did not get us to the place we thought we’d get if the project succeeded. I felt it as a genuine moment of authenticity, and my respect for her grew.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jeff, What a truly powerful story. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Matt McWilliams

    Keeping up a facade is exhausting.

    I am a white, middle class kid from the suburbs and if there is one thing we are awesome at…it’s keeping up a facade.

    But it takes way too much energy and focus and causes me to forget my main objectives.

  4. Jamie


    Thank you for this topic! I loved your “REAL” discussion last week. This struck a chord with me and was eye opening! YOU choose what to sacrifice…I will definitely explore that more. I would love to read more in depth blogs around Authenticity from you.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jamie, thanks so much! Will be writing more on authenticity.

  5. Sharon Gilmour-Glover

    Hi Karin,

    I just found your site through Tribrr. I am so glad I did. Authenticity is so essential and can be so difficult. I love that you captured the real struggle to find a way to be authentic under some very real pressures. Thank you for this post.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Sharon, Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.

  6. Jim Ryan

    I see myself getting more authentic as I get older. I have less of an ego than I did 10 years ago. My problem is being more assertive with my beliefs in the face of opposition. aggh

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jim, So mamy people have shared that in my research for this post. Authenticity does seem to improve with age (for many). Yeah! Finally a benefit 😉

  7. LaRae Quy

    HI Karin

    Yep, it takes up way too much energy to be a fake leader. It’s hard work keeping up all those appearances and trying to remember all those little white lies…since nothing is said with sincerity you can’t rely on your memory to be accurate. Sooner or later, life catches up with those are not authentic…but I feel sort of sorry for them because most of them have no idea WHO or WHAT they really stand for…the illusion has become the reality. I think it’s sometimes called “mid-life crisis?”

    Great article, Karin.

    • letsgrowleaders

      LaRae, Thanks so much. I know you do important work wtih folks on this topic. I feel that same empathy… it can be tragic.

  8. sue bock


    Awesome post! Fantastic tips. There’s a lot of risk in authenticity if you don’t trust who you are. Authenticity combined with trust shows confidence in every sense and people know it. I’d like to add that when you have authenticity with trust sacrifice melts.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Sue, What an important add! Yes…. trusting yourself is a vital starting point.


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