The Journey to Authentic Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is an update of a previous post that became a reader favorite.

The journey to authentic leadership is not an easy one. It’s full of challenges, and it requires developing a high level of self- and other-awareness over time. “Knowledge experiences” alone won’t be enough to stimulate the kind of learning that is required on this important journey.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes authenticity as both personal and social: “The prevailing view seems to have been that, by turning inward and accessing the “true” self, one is simultaneously led towards a deeper engagement with the social world. This is why Taylor (1989: 419–455) describes the trajectory of the project of authenticity is ‘inward and upward’.”

What Are Its Inner and Outer Dimensions?

I believe that the following 14 personal, interpersonal and societal dimensions together form what we think of as authenticity. They involve overcoming the internal and external barriers to living an intentional, aware and ethical life. See if you agree.




Takes Responsibility


Has High Ethical Standards



True to One’s Self

Aligned in Thought, Word, and Deed (Has Integrity)

Committed to Growth and Learning


Cares About Others

Respectful to All

Fully Inclusive



Fully Present/Aware of Reality


Sees Multiple Perspectives

Understands Systems/Uses Systems Thinking

Learns Deeply About Issues Before Taking a Position


Sees Beyond Self and Others to the Needs of Society

Finds Ways to Make Life Better in the Community

Has an Identified Life Purpose or Calling

Reaches Individual Potential in Ways That Benefit Society

Advances the Greater Good

Growth Required

Discovering our authentic selves often involves venturing into areas where we are not at all comfortable, but where we believe we can find meaning in our work and lives. As Herminia Ibarra wrote in her article Managing Authenticity: The Paradox of Great Leadership (HBR), “The only way we grow as leaders is by stretching the limits of who we are—doing new things that make us uncomfortable but that teach us through direct experience who we want to become.” The journey to authentic leadership is a long-term quest to grow into the best version of ourselves, and along the way we can use what we’ve learned to help others do the same.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership  

© 2009-2023 Leading in Context LLC

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