Authenticating Your Leadership

Authenticity is your most precious commodity as a leader.

–Marcus Buckingham

The painting was named the Sunset at Montmajour and depicted trees, bushes, and the sky that was later confirmed to be inspired by the landscape at Montmajour hill, near Arles, France,  near where the artist Vincent van Gogh lived. The painting had spent years in the attic of a Norwegian private collector.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam had previously rejected the painting’s authenticity in the 1990s partly because it was not signed. Was it truly an original by the renowned painter?

Thanks to new research at the time (2013), and an extensive two-year investigation, it was concluded that the artwork was indeed by the artist Vincent van Gogh. It was called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” at the unveiling ceremony.

The painting was authenticated by letters, style, and the physical materials used. The investigation into the authenticity of the painting took two years.

The authentication process is one that was done with a great deal of research and care. There could be no doubts or reservations before making such a bold declaration.

This leads me to the question of how we go about authenticating leaders.

Many people desire to be leaders. Many people claim to be leaders. Some are the real deal and, of course, there are pretenders. But how can you be certain? How do you authenticate or validate one’s leadership?

Over time many things will ultimately reveal whether a person is truly a leader – whether that person is just starting or has been around for a long time. So what are those distinguishing characteristics? Here are a few ways to know.

Authentic leaders seek to serve

This is one of the most distinguishing differences that exist in leadership – those who chase after power and position, and those who seek out ways to serve others. A true leader understands that ultimately, it’s not about you.

Jim George put it this way, “Serving others prepares you to lead others.” And this is why it takes so long for so many to authenticate their leadership – they have it all backward. When you prioritize serving others,  you are laying the stepping stones to your success as a leader.

Authentic leaders walk with humility

Since authentic leaders know that it’s not about them, they check their ego at the door. Authentic leaders know that the more they are entrusted to lead and influence those around them the more responsibility they assume.

Thomas Merton was correct when he said, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” Let that thought sink in for a moment. Grandstanding and self-promotion come across more times than not as being artificial and fake, but those who walk with humility demonstrate true characteristics of leadership that are appealing and worth emulating.

Authentic leaders are trustworthy

The great thing about authentic and trustworthy leaders is that you don’t have to question their motives. You don’t have to second-guess the validity of the relationship. Their word is their bond.

Authenticity in this area of your leadership is critical to your success as a leader whether you are just starting or have been around a while. You have to build trust and be trustworthy because with it anything is possible, and without it nothing is.

Authentic leaders growing leaders

Authentic leaders are growing leaders. They are constantly learning, failing, re-evaluating, and re-entering. They are not afraid to make mistakes and fail and appear at times to not have it all together. They are comfortable in their skin because they know that this life and leadership journey is real and at times can get messy.

This tribe of leaders embrace the mess and had rather risk looking foolish than be a phony who never ventures and never learns and never grows. They’d rather be authentic- warts and all.

What sets this authentic leader apart from the rest is their insatiable desire to grow and be the best they can be and leave their mark on the world.

Final Thoughts

Authenticating your leadership is an important aspect of your leadership. And these characteristics listed here are a good place to start but certainly aren’t an exhaustive list. But you can begin by taking an honest assessment of where you are now with this list. Dare to challenge your beliefs and assumptions and dare to be authentic.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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