Women’s Superpower: Authentic Leadership

By Eileen Gaffen, President – Steres Gaffen Media


Are you watching Succession? The arrogant, self-serving, destructive power of the Roy family is no way to effectively lead and certainly isn’t serving them well.

Today’s most effective leaders are open, empathetic, and driven by ethical decision-making rooted in their company’s mission. Women are bringing this authentic leadership superpower into boardrooms, corporations, small businesses, and investment decisions with tremendous success.

What does authentic leadership look like?

Often, when beginning a career, it’s difficult to recognize authentic leadership until working with other types of leaders. Julia Wada, group vice president of corporate strategy and innovation at Toyota Financial Services, had that experience in her first role as a mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin.

“I had no idea of the different paths my career could take or what it meant to be a leader,” Wada explained. “There weren’t many women, but I distinctly remember several who helped me see what I could be. One strong female leader was widely admired, and I was lucky to be able to work directly with her. What stood out for me is that she wasn’t trying to be like the men, or anyone else. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she let me see early on in my career that authentic female leadership was not just normal, but a strength.”

Understanding and Empathy

Don’t assume you know exactly what your workers or clients are feeling. Check in on them, ask questions and then listen with an empathetic ear.

Even when you disagree, it is important to understand and respect their point of view.

Using a phrase as simple as "I understand where you are coming from" demonstrates that you have been listening to the other person and respect their opinions.

Being open means listening, getting input, and sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. It may be uncomfortable but there’s a payoff.

Miriam Fanning, the founder and principal of Mim Design, told CEO Magazine “Always be authentic and true to yourself. This includes being open and honest even if it means communicating things that clients don’t want to hear. They will appreciate it in the long-term.”

How authentic is too authentic

In a study conducted by KPMG, Advancing the Future of Women in Business, the company polled 550 high-performing women from 150 leading companies who are 1-2 career steps away from the C-suite. 49% identified most with an authentic leadership style but struggle to define how much authenticity is too much. Women executives believe their authenticity must decrease as they rise in the ranks.

For the purposes of the study, authentic leadership style was defined as:

  • Demonstrates a true passion for their purpose
  • Practice their values and principles consistently – sometimes at substantial risk to their careers – and lead with their hearts as well as their heads.
  • Authentic leaders keep a strong support team around them to ensure work/life balance.
  • They strive for meaningful relationships while also focusing on success and bottom-line results
  • Authentic leaders are reflective and introspective, seek honest feedback, and openly share their own life stories.

When asked how to remain authentic, former KPMG U.S. Chairman and CEO Lynne Doughtie said “Prioritize the things that only you can do.” Sage advice from one of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business.

Posted in Women in Business.