How To Be A More Authentic And Confident Leader

Confidence can feel like an act when we’re not feeling up to a task. Here’s how to be true to yourself, and project strength.

How To Be A More Authentic And Confident Leader
[Photo: Flickr user Brett Curtiss]

Many articles about Leadership focus on being confident. You want to show people that you know where you’re going and that they should follow you there.


But the situation is more complicated, argues Stewart Friedman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In his new book Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life, he explores the idea that truly winning people over “starts with knowing what you care about, and then being able to express that in ways other people can relate to,” he says.

You tell stories of your past, and stories of your future. “The really hard part is the first piece–looking inside and doing that pretty regularly to identify what you stand for and where you’re trying to take yourself and the world.”

Such authenticity isn’t about bluster. Instead, “you want to convey to people that you’ve struggled and you’ve emerged. That’s something they’re experiencing too.”

So how can you become a more authentic leader?

“Acting with a sense of authenticity means being yourself wherever you are,” Friedman says. He suggests thinking of your life in terms of four identities. There is work, family, community, and self. Write down what motivates you and what matters to you in these four spheres. What do you spend your time on? Why do you do what you do?

The point is not to create a perfect overlap. “Of course you’re going to act differently. You’re going to dress differently,” Friedman says. More importantly, when we’re talking about leadership, “Whatever it is you’re doing, it has to work for the other person too.” Perhaps what motivates your personal and community life is your religious faith. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean you should proselytize at work.


Instead, look for what does translate–a desire to make the world more just, for instance. That can carry to any sphere. “Life is generally better if what you’re trying to get done in your family is congruent with what you’re trying to do in your community and your work,” Friedman says. Just don’t assume that you’re automatically most authentic at home, and you need to bring that self to the office. Some people are goal-oriented and passionate at work, but phone it in at home. That’s not real authenticity either.

As for becoming more authentic, there are many things you can’t control. But you can look around and see “what I can adjust that gives me a little bit more sense of alignment in terms of what I care about and what I actually do,” Friedman says. “Within your world, what is possible? I find that’s a very fruitful question.”

As you start making these changes, your values come through, “and it’s not just some platitude,” says Friedman. “It seems true if you can reveal how you got there.” As you tell your stories, people will naturally follow along. They’ll follow along with a lot more enthusiasm than if you’d just blundered through.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at