Authentic Leadership

What is Authentic Leadership?

Some of us pursue opportunities for leadership in our work, our community, and in professional organizations. We enjoy being in charge, setting goals and direction, chairing meetings, and “being the face” of the organization. After all, a certain boost to one’s ego comes from the attention and requests for approval or guidance that comes with leadership positions. If this is true for you, too, you’ve probably experienced the competitive circumstances common to seeking a leadership position.

How do you go about competing for these opportunities? Do you wait patiently for other leaders to recognize your potential, or do you take every opportunity to show off your skills and commitment? Do you share your honest opinions, or do you guard what you say? Do you seek good relationships with all your organization colleagues, or do you focus your attention on your “naturally” close associates?

How you answer these questions can make a large difference in your success in achieving leadership roles, how effective you can be in them, and the rewards you’ll realize in fulfilling your leadership duties.

Years ago, I was engaged with my alma mater’s annual fund volunteer leadership organization. I chaired our Orange County chapter and was selected by my mentor (and later good friend) to become one of three organization vice presidents. I enjoyed the opportunity to exercise influence within the organization and more broadly with the campus community. I worked hard in the role (as I try to do in all volunteer roles) and saw the opportunity to become the Fund’s Chairman following my mentor’s tenure.

As the leading candidate for this position, I was asked to interview with two of the university’s senior staff who oversaw the program and its leadership. In that I came from and represented Orange County in the LA-based school, I didn’t always see things the same way as many Angelenos did. I honestly shared my perspectives in this interview – what was right and wrong with the organization – and what my leadership priorities would be.

About a month later, at the year-end celebration event, I was recognized as the “volunteer of the year”, which is a wonderful honor, but I also knew that it meant I was not selected to be the new chairman. I was very disappointed and did much soul-searching as to how my goal was derailed. Much later, my mentor confirmed my suspicion that my honest opinions didn’t sit so well with my interviewers. They preferred a more “LA-centric” leader and selected someone who would reflect that (though that candidate had not had near the mission impact that I had until then).

We all are familiar with the notion that we all experience setbacks and problems in life. The question is how does one respond to them? My disappointment with losing out on this leadership opportunity could have led me to be more guarded, to answer questions with what I believed the interviews wanted to hear and to be unauthentic in order to gain what I wanted. Instead, I eventually grew to appreciate that being honest, doing my best, and being true to who I am – even if it means that is not what others want to hear from me – is the best way to demonstrate my leadership skills. I also needed to recognize that I’m not always the right fit of a leader for certain organizations and, in these situations, I should look elsewhere for opportunities where I can be an authentic leader that is most beneficial to that organization.

Fortunately, I have been given many of these opportunities in other organizations. I chaired the UCLA Orange County Golf Classic fundraising event for a number of years, was President of an Orange County Performing Arts Center Support Group, became the fourth and last Chairman of the Board of Governors of Center Club, chaired two committees at OneOC, and serve as President of OC Advisors in Philanthropy. My value in these roles is yet to be determined, but I have approached each of them in an authentic way, the best way for me to make a real impact. For me, being an “authentic leader” has been most rewarding as I’ve witnessed the impact my efforts have made on my colleagues and on the mission of many organizations.

I would like for you to ask yourself these three questions and consider how you demonstrate authentic leadership:

1.) Do you seek out leadership roles with organizations or wait for them to come to you?
2.) Are you willing to share your true opinions even if it could mean you don’t get the role?
3.) What has been your most fulfilling leadership position and why?

I would love to hear from you on this topic of authentic leadership. Send me an email at

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