I just read an article called “22 Qualities that Make a Great Leader” published by a reputable online source, and man, I have a headache.

22 qualities? Really?

How on earth is anyone supposed to make sense of that, not to mention apply what’s been learned?

Let’s cut to the chase: there are many attributes that make great leaders, and they can differ depending on contextual factors like competitive landscape, organization structure, or cultural differences. Given that kind of complexity, it’s no wonder some people just make a big ol’ list and say “Here! Lead!” and then hope for the best.

But take heart, fearless leaders-in-training, because for all that’s confusing and complicated about leadership there is one thing that is fairly consistent in driving leader performance across all sorts of dimensions.

Be authentic.

Seriously, it’s that simple. If you can only do one thing, focus on being authentic. Be true to your values. Speak your truth, and lead from that place of truth.

It works because by its very nature, authenticity requires:

  • Self-awareness. How can you be truly authentic if you don’t know who you are?
  • Confidence. To be at ease with yourself requires that you know your value and that you carry that knowledge with you everywhere.
  • Transparency. Authentic people don’t live in the shadows, they don’t keep secrets, and they don’t tell lies. They allow the truth of who they are to shine brightly.
  • Strength. Weak people aren’t authentic. They just aren’t.
  • Consistency. Authentic people act from a core set of values, so even when specific behaviors might seem surprising, they’ll always make sense in the context of the leader’s values.

Authenticity drives leader effectiveness because it is the end result of many other core leader behaviors.

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, the really great thing about authenticity is that it can be learned. It might take some effort, but through practice and work, most people can learn to tap into the wisdom of their essential selves and lead from a place of authenticity.

What do you think – is authenticity enough, or am I oversimplifying?