Authentic Leadership and Coaching

Coach Nate Hartman Oct 12, 2016 

Authenticity in leadership is one of, if not the most important characteristic that a leader and coach can possess. Authenticity must come from within. It can’t be forced, faked, or pushed to the side as other aspects of leadership and coaching are pursued. While there isn’t one specific definition of what an authentic leader is or what it entails, theories and hypotheses have been developed to help us further understand and develop.

Authentic Leadership Style

Currently, authentic leadership theory is based on the modernist psychological assumption that an individual has a “true self,” independent of contextual influences (Caza & Jackson, 2011) With this understanding; each individual has a unique identity that enables them to be authentic. When we look at different leadership theories, we usually find one that makes the most sense to our personality. We are then able to put those characteristics into action. We may even combine different theories to help us be an effective leader. My next thought related to how we become an authentic leader. If we must connect with our true self to develop authenticity in our leadership, then it’s possible for any leader to be an authentic leader. To further explain, we must understand that deep inside of us, we have a true identity or true self. When this is tapped into, we become authentic.

My authentic leadership style was first recognized and tapped into during my first season of coaching basketball at Idaho Falls High School. As the head freshman and assistant varsity coach, I felt an immediate desire to create leaders on and off the court. In fact, this became the first goal I presented to my team of basketball players and future leaders. Our second goal was to get better every time we stepped onto the court. These team goals came from an authenticity within myself as the coach and leader. I cared about the kids before I even knew them. As we went through tryouts and picked our team, my desire to be authentic in our team building process became evident. While leadership and trust take time to build, they can be diminished within seconds. This is important to remember when leading a team in sports, business, healthcare, education, or any other endeavor. My players wanted authenticity. In fact, they craved it. They wanted to learn from someone who cared about them as basketball players, but more importantly, as individual human beings. As I asked things of them, they wanted authenticity in return. Of course they wanted a knowledgeable basketball coach to teach them X’s and O’s, pick and roll coverage, help side defense, a press break, how to feed the post man, and many other things, they also wanted a coach who could call upon personal passion and persistence in teaching them. My team wanted to see me doing what I love. They wanted me to have fun coaching, enabling them to have fun playing. My players wanted to know their personal and athletic goals mattered to me. My players wanted to be a team, but also wanted to know I cared and contributed to their individual growth. This required individual attention, which needs to be authentic! If not, your team can tell.


At a young age, we may have been told or persuaded through marketing, advertising, and media that we must become a certain way in order to fit in or to be successful. When we dive into outside forces and influences, we open up the potential that we may lose our authentic self in the process. It comes down to self-validation. As I was recently speaking with Hall of Fame basketball coach and mentor, George Raveling, he taught me the idea of self-validation and what that meant for me. When we become what others tell us to become, we lose our authenticity. In Coach Rav’s words, “The biggest mistake we make is letting someone else tell us what we want. I think I can decide for myself what I want.” Our authentic nature has the ability to determine for ourselves who we are, who we want to become, and how we inspire others to become their best through the process of our own self-improvement and leadership. Self-validation requires a leader to be self-aware. Gardner and colleagues (2005) suggest self-awareness is considered a key feature of authentic leadership. Self-awareness calls for a leader to look inside oneself and truly understand strengths and weaknesses. When the leader and coach develop self-awareness, those they lead can develop their own self-awareness. Understanding ones true self is the first step to leading oneself, allowing for leadership of others. This can be difficult because it requires an honest evaluation of oneself. Ego must be put aside for an honest evaluation. If a leader can better understand oneself, their personal characteristics, traits, true desires and visions then the leader and coach becomes more authentic in leading.


Authentic leadership’s main strength is having the ability to be true to oneself. If a leader and coach can completely be who they desire and who they feel they truly are, free of bias, worry, and outside opinions, the leader is liberated. When a leader is liberated, they hold the ability to liberate others, in turn developing other authentic leaders. Authenticity allows a leader to love and lead themselves first, developing a loving, caring, and service opportunity for those that they lead. Authenticity inspires passion and purpose in the work of the leader and coach, who can relay that to the team. Passion and purpose lead to the leader believing in the vision set forth for the team, allowing followers to capture and see the vision. Teams and cultures are built on complete buy in from the players. Buying in to the leader and in the style being used becomes crucial for future action. According to Rush (2012), strategic leadership looks to achieve long-term results, which is one of the attributes authentic leaders strive for. Long-term goals and results are a powerful for any organization or team.

Closing Thoughts

Similar to any leadership style, authentic leadership has strengths and weaknesses. This leads to the authentic leadership style being more effective in relation with some individuals verse others. The main difference in authenticity is the internal nature of understanding oneself, allowing a true self and identity to shine through the external voices and expectations. Authenticity relates more towards emotional intelligence than intellectual intelligence. Authenticity comes from within. When you find your passion and purpose, you’ll find your authentic leadership style.

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