Karin’s Leadership Articles

How would you answer the question:  Do most leaders lead with true authenticity? Sadly, if you’re like my MBA students, the majority of you will likely vote no. You’d share stories of strategic ambiguity, or leaders letting greed and stock price trump once solid values. One student shared, “I honestly think most leaders start out being authentic, but after a while with all the pressures it’s just too hard to maintain.” When everyone’s playing a guarded game, it’s hard to win if you’re the only one playing the vulnerability card. Easier to blend in and go with the flow.

So, what if I changed the question just slightly and asked: Do YOU lead with true authenticity? I imagine the percentages would shift in the favor of yes. But if we’re honest with ourselves, for most of us the true answer is  “unless.”

  • Unless the other guy’s playing games.
  • Unless I have to salute and tow the company line
  • Unless we have to make our fourth quarter earnings
  • Unless the truth will lead to employee disengagement
  • Unless my boss is around
  • Unless…

Most of us don’t get up in the morning looking to fake it. Authenticity breeches are seldom blatant acts of self-betrayal, but more likely minor shades of grey which we convince ourselves (often unconsciously) are okay.

What does it mean to be truly authentic? I’ve been asking that question of everyone I meet lately (my MBA student’s answers are cloud sourced in the pic above). Most definitions involve the word “being:” being genuine, being consistent, being transparent, being trustworthy. Being is such a richer word than doing.

Authenticity stems from who you are which manifests in what you do.

5 Ways to Lead More Authentically

Know Yourself:  Be constantly curious about your leadership and the impact you are making, both good and bad. Have a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Admit your weaknesses and how you are working to improve on them

Be Yourself : Be true to your leadership values and style. Avoid emulating someone else’s style to fit a certain mold. Strive for integration and consistency of who you are across various contexts (e.g. work, home, church)

Say What’s True:  Be trustworthy and honest. Do what you say. Don’t withhold information. Be willing to have the tough conversations.

Commit to the Cause:  Be committed to the mission at a deep level. If your heart’s not in it, consider your motives. Doing what’s right trumps any personal agenda.

Connect With Others:  Be genuinely interested in other people as humans, not just for what they can do to make your life easier. Make extra effort to connect at a deeper level up, down and sideways.

I’m conducting a quick authenticity poll if you would be willing to join the anonymous research click here.


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. Paul LaRue

    A spot-on post, Karin!

    For me, knowing yourself includes knowing your weaknesses – areas you’re prone to compromise – and build in safeguards to prevent breaching your values (ie – accountability partners, etc).

    Imagine how much positive change would be affected if every leader adopted the mind sets you’ve laid out.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • Karin Hurt

      Paul, Thanks so much. I so agree with you. Knowing and be willing to embrace and work on our weaknesses is so very important in real leadership. Leading from who we are… warts and all. I’m thrilled to be in the Dominican Republic today doing a keynote and that’s a key part of my message.

  2. Jonathan

    The safeguards element of this conundrum are the critical element from my perspective. It is certainly easier to hang on to your values and entrenched beliefs during the day to day regularity of our work lives. But when the firefight happens, and thickets we find ourselves in are hard to see through, values can be tested quickly as survival mode! Having a structure around you to instill and ensure can handle the fray is so very important. Agree 100%!!!

    • Karin Hurt

      Jonathan, yes, yes, yes! Creating an infrastructure of “safeguards” is such an important expansion of this conversation… including trusted advisors. When the going gets tough, and others are cheering us on to lose sight of our values, it’s easy to persuade ourselves that just going with the flow is the right thing to do.

  3. Rick Foreman

    These flow wonderfully together for a leadership template. I’ve found that knowing one’s purpose and the “why” factor behind, what they do is very important. If we’re pursuing leadership for ourselves, then the tendencies to swerve off track loom larger, when the pressure is on. If we realize its less about us and more about helping others then the value system tends to remain in a stronger position. Excellent post and reminder for each of us.

    • Karin Hurt

      Rick. Thanks so much. I totally agree with you. It’s far easier to stay on track when you’re leading for the greater good. Thanks for extending the conversation.

  4. Terri Klass

    Great post Karin and I love your ways to be an authentic leader!

    For me, authenticity is about sharing all sides of ourselves with others. When I partner with organizations in designing training, I make sure to share with my clients some of the challenges I have faced along the way. By opening myself up, I become a more believable and trusting leader to them and they in turn will be more honest with me.

    Authenticity leads to transparency which leads to trust.


    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, I love to do that too. It really does create an instant bond. Glad you liked the post… since it’s part of the chapter I’m working on for our book 😉

  5. Ellen Eckhardt

    Thank you Karin, for YOUR authentic leadership. Your posts and the incredibly valuable conversations that follow, draw me in every time! I believe authentic leadership is when we are true to ourselves, as we reach out to others to help them lead. When I speak with patients, I love looking directly into his/her eyes and saying, “I’d like to check on the quality of your care.” He or she then becomes the leader of the conversation. I am the facilitator.

    • Karin Hurt

      Ellen, So great to have you join the conversation. What a BEAUTIFUL example. Imagine if every healthcare provider would do that. Amen.

  6. Shawn

    Thank you for today’s posting. A much needed refresher that I am not perfect, and that I do fall from time to time on my journey to be more authentic and lead with the right mindset and right reasons. I am coming off a busy and stressful week at work, and stressful weekend at home. I am beginning to realize more and more that if I am not making my list of things to do, that I quickly become less authentic and fall out of touch with myself. When this happens, I am less likely to know my weaknesses, and understand that I have limits to what I can do, even if I want to do it all.

    • Karin Hurt

      Shawn, Thanks so much for your very authentic response. We all feel that way from time to time. Sorry it’s a rough season. I know it will get better. I love the idea of writing stuff down to help you stay on track. Hang in there.

  7. LaRae Quy

    One of my favorites, Karin!

    Like many others, I have struggled with how to be authentic and yet be strategic…I have had to salute and tow the corporate line to keep my job, but I do not think that I was being inauthentic when doing so.

    The reason? Self-awareness is about much more than bending when needed or required by my job requirements. If we are authentic, we are first and foremost “self-aware.” The problem comes in when our self-awareness gets muddied by actions or words that are inconsistent.

    I’m not sure we have to prove our self-awareness in everything we do…so, sometimes it means towing the company line. That doesn’t need to diminish me, not if I’m secure in who I truly am.

    I can bend without breaking…absolutes in the real world are very difficult to find. When it comes to being authentic, whether in life or business, the world is rarely black and white.

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, I so agree… and yet that leading for the greater good, and towing the company line are often all part of what must be done. On the other hand, I have seen senior leaders sit in meetings where they were quite clear on their very strong authentic feelings heading in, and as soon as their boss said something to the contrary they immediately saluted without bringing in any additional information or discussion. That can be extremely dangerous.

  8. Alli Polin

    How interesting! I’m authentic but not the other guy…

    Also interesting that you put this in the context of self-betrayal. What happens when we betray ourselves, even unconsciously, is that we justify our choices and actions. Love that you started with “know yourself” as a pathway to authenticity. Doing the work to get in touch with who you are helps you to notice when you’re making those less-than-authentic choices too.

    Thanks, Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks so much. I gave a talk on authenticity yesterday in the Dominican Republic, and that part seemed to resonate the most… starting with knowing who you really are.

  9. Barbara Brooks Kimmel

    Karin- authentic leaders (if they are defined as those with character, integrity and values) simply don’t cave to the “unless” in their jobs. Barbara

  10. Nanzhu Christina Jiang

    Thanks for sharing this authentic leadership article! From my perspective, authentic leader is able to influence followers to effectively achieve common goals. Exactly as you said in the article, connecting with others will help a leader to become more authentically. Once the leader establishes trust and has personal connections with followers, the leader is able to effectively deliverer his or her authentic leadership .

    Thank you

  11. Sridhar Laxman

    Thank you for this important post. Authenticity to me amongst other things is the courage to be myself. To take decisions based on my values and to also accept not being accepted every time. Its a feeling of liberation knowing I will do things only if I choose to do them not because I ‘have to’ or ‘should’ do them. I have walked away from coaching engagements that were in conflict with my core values and the decision was quite easy to make. As a coach, I live by my top three values of compassion, clarity and authenticity and it is serving me and my clients very well.

  12. Maurice Bunn

    This was spot on Professor Karin. However I believe we are stripped of our authenticity during early child-hood, for example forcing children to wear uniforms to school. For most children clothing is how they express themselves.(A small example, but an example nonetheless). Also consider math! I was thought that there was only one way to solve a certain problem. I would always challenge my teacher by finding the same answer, but using a different tactic. We do need more authentic leaders, a lot more. However our society fears authenticity take “Hustler Magazine” for example. We fear what we can’t control. So we contain it. By taking small bits of originality away from what makes an individual unique.

    “Thanks for the articles”

    • Karin Hurt

      Maurice, It’s so awesome to have you joining the conversation. You really raise an important point here… at various stages of our life we are taught to conform… it happens as children, and it also happens as we are “groomed” in various roles. Math was never my favorite subject 😉 I hope you will continue to participate in our community. Namaste.

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