If you think the “command and control” model of leadership is still the best way to run an organization, consider this: It took hold in the 1950s when a large portion of the workforce returned from World War II. This hierarchical, rigid leadership style functioned much like the military: executives gave orders, minimized risk, and discouraged dissent. But I’m here to tell you that it’s a relic of a bygone era. 

We need to break the mold of “command and control” and find our own modes of authentic leadership. Leading in 2021 means delegating rather than dictating; inspiring and empowering over merely instructing. Above all, authentic leadership is being who you really are and encouraging others to do the same. It’s about having a vision for your company that resonates with the people who work alongside you every day. 

That’s how you create a culture of inclusion –– and innovation. And that’s what you need to attract and retain the best employees today. It’s particularly important for Gen Z, which values transparency, flexibility, collaboration, and integrity in the workplace. This demographic will soon surpass Millennials as the most populous generation on earth. We can’t afford to build our businesses without keeping them in mind. 

The good news is that authentic leaders don’t need fancy degrees or membership in elite clubs to create high-performance teams. These traits can be nurtured, and they’re available to all of us who have the courage to do so.

21. Resilience

I’ve noticed that authentic leaders have a tremendous amount of resilience –– the ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned. They don’t dwell on the past. They see mistakes and difficulties as opportunities for change. When something goes wrong, they recognize it as a data point, but they’ll learn from it and move forward.

20. Cognitive diversity

Authentic leaders know how to hire a diverse team, but not just in age, race, ethnicity, and all the other ways we humans can be different from one another. Cognitive diversity is important, too. We need people with a wide range of creative thought processes, which is necessary for innovation.

Leading authentically also means learning how to help a team operate in an inclusive way. We must encourage everyone to express their views and offer a safe environment in which to do so. 

19. A supportive, coaching leadership style

As leaders, we do have to enact “command and control” in certain situations. But for the most part, leading with authenticity makes people feel supported and able to unleash their potential. They have a serve-first mindset focused on empowering and uplifting others. 

They can, and should, drive accountability with measurable objectives. But if goals are not met, the authentic leader coaches their team through lessons learned and makes sure all know it’s okay to fail if growing stronger from the experience.

18. Focus on long-term results

This is easier said than done, but it’s one we can all work toward. Authentic leaders make long-term goals and stick to them. They know the journey is never linear; they expect plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Simon Sinek puts it this way: “Leaders who embrace an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative, and more inspiring organizations.” 

17. Positive energy

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says he’s looking for two things when he’s recruiting people: clarity (of purpose, and in communication) and energy –– good energy.

Since I left the corporate world, I manage my energy better. In the morning, my energy is strongest, so I take on critical tasks right away. My energy wanes in the afternoon, so that’s when I do work that demands less of it: social media follow-up, emails, organizational tasks. 

Find the natural cadence that works for you, and remember: We all have the power to change a room. Bring your best energetic self wherever you go.

16. Mindset

Energy and mindset are two sides of the same coin. Tony Robbins says that “where focus goes, energy flows.” Great leaders know it’s important to start your day with the right mindset.

It’s simple but it’s not always easy. We tend to make excuses –– which ultimately just means we let ourselves down. 

That’s why I love the Accountability Lab. It’s a little bit of support as we begin each day. We report back and sometimes we fail, and that’s okay. There’s no judgment. We just keep moving forward.

15. Kindness

We don’t often think of kindness as a quality that defines a great leader. Many of us think leaders must be tough –– and perceived as such, all the time. That’s not true. Authentic and truly great leaders are confident and comfortable in their own skin. They are intentionally, genuinely warm and unerringly kind. 

14. Trust

Kindness is a way to accelerate trust. And trust has an impact on your bottom line.

In “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen Covey says there is a relationship between trust, cost and speed. When you don’t have trust, communication is difficult and everything moves more slowly. 

Trust is essential for building alliances with stakeholders. And it’s also the foundation of a high-performance team, according to Google’s Project Aristotle. When people trust each other, they’re not afraid to voice their opinions. They’re much more likely to have open, constructive disagreement, which is crucial for innovation. 

13. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is not to be confused with weakness. Brené Brown says “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” We all need to have an authentic connection with our teams, so we must embrace the concept of vulnerability.

And we must find the right balance between vulnerability and projecting calm and confidence amidst chaos, particularly in difficult times. You can admit your spouse is going crazy with you working from home –– while also reassuring your team that although there’s no playbook for a pandemic, together you’ll find a way forward.

12. Ownership, responsibility and accountability

An authentic leader takes ownership for anything that occurs while an organization works toward its mission. They create a no blame, no excuses culture. 

The leadership at United Wholesale Mortgage does this brilliantly. It’s a “thumb-pointer culture, not a finger-pointer culture” –– which means they value positivity (thumbs up) rather than pointing fingers to blame others. 

Winston Churchill says the price of greatness is responsibility. As leaders, we must embrace accountability for the output, no matter the level of quality or success.

11. Consistency and cadence

I tend to live in the creative, visionary realm. I like learning and trying new things. So for me, cadence and consistency are a challenge. But authentic leaders strive to provide stability anchors to their teams, whether that’s in the cadence of meetings or consistent messaging.

John Maxwell says small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time. I’ve found that to be true, so I work toward greater consistency even when it doesn’t come naturally to me.

10. Empowerment

I once had a boss who told me I trusted my people too much. I didn’t quite know how to respond, because I knew deep down that empowering people is integral to great leadership. We need to support and inspire individuals so they can grow and take on new challenges.

Empowerment is making people feel safe and confident enough to realize their maximum potential. They can accomplish so much more if they aren’t beleaguered by the need for their superiors to approve every decision. Nobody likes a micromanager.

9.  Transparency

Jack Welch tells us that “trust happens when leaders are transparent.” And I’ve found that authentic leaders strive for open communication at all levels. They’re not into gamesmanship. 

Sometimes when you’re in a meeting, you’ll hear people suggest: Let’s tell the employees this or let’s tell the suppliers that. And everyone can see right through it. 

I’m not suggesting you share everything with everybody. But being honest is always the right thing to do.  

8. Communication

Authentic leaders know that everyone absorbs information differently. Some people prefer to learn visually, so they like video. Some prefer audio, and others learn best by reading. We should do our best to provide it all.

You don’t need a big-budget production company to create multi-channel communications. You can record a short video message on your iPhone talking about the week’s accomplishments. Or you might produce a simple podcast discussing ideas that support your brand. Unscripted is okay –– in fact, it’s the most authentic approach. 

7. Listening skills

Years ago, my former company surveyed various stakeholders for feedback on my leadership skills. The results showed that I wasn’t a very good listener.

It was a shock. I really believed I was listening to my team. But apparently, I did what Stephen Covey warns us about: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

I’d often get so excited about someone’s idea that I’d want to implement it right away. I wouldn’t necessarily talk over them, but I’d wait for a split second when they took a breath and jump right in. I didn’t give them time to fully articulate their idea.

It was hard to hear, but since then I’ve become a better listener –– and a better leader.

6. Honesty and integrity 

Authentic leaders have unquestionable integrity and strength of character. 

Brené Brown says, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

Disagreeing, saying no, and providing constructive criticism can be uncomfortable and tricky. But if you approach those moments from a place of respect, you’ll find that most people are receptive because they appreciate your honesty.

5.  Heart-first leadership

Authentic leaders lead from the heart. They are comfortable in their own skin, radiating warmth, compassion and empathy. And they’re willing to drop the F-bomb. 

The f-bomb isn’t what you think it is. It’s being unafraid to ask people how they feel about things. Great leaders nurture compassion and emotional intelligence so they can connect with people at a deep level.

4.  Self-awareness

Gary Vaynerchuk says that “when you know who you are, everything changes.”

I’m living proof of that. In the last few years, I’ve realized who I am more fully. I talk about stripping away the corporate mask and embracing our true selves instead of assimilating to what a company wants us to be. I’m doing what I absolutely love to do.

I urge you to be honest with yourself, get feedback from others, and embrace what lights you up –– what makes you you.  

3. Celebrating success

As leaders, we focus on problems when we have them –– which can seem like all the time. But when we have success, we should never let an opportunity to celebrate go by. 

Whether it’s an individual, personal goal crushed or a team milestone met, we should always find a way to recognize their efforts. Celebrating success motivates and inspires us all. 

Soccer legend Mia Hamm’s advice is to “celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.”  

2. Vision and purpose

Too often, our forward momentum is solely about the metrics we want to achieve. They’re important, but there has to be something bigger. 

The vast majority of Millennials and Gen Z say that they only want to work with organizations that have missions and values they resonate with. They’re not prepared to spend the currency of their lives in a company that’s just all about ROI. 

So great leaders need to work with their teams to collaboratively define a compelling vision –– something that will guide the brand, guide their behavior and become a guiding light for their company culture. 

1.  Gravitas

You might have seen this coming: The number one trait of an authentic leader is gravitas

Gravitas is difficult to describe. It’s a feeling. It’s the emotional response you have when you meet a real leader. 

When practicing all of these ways of being authentic in your work and in your life, you create gravitas. And the energy you project will be infectious to everyone around you.

Jan Griffiths is the president and founder of Gravitas Detroit, which provides workshops, speeches and coaching to accelerate high-performance teams and develop leaders. A veteran executive in the automotive industry, Jan previously served as chief procurement officer for a $3 billion, tier-one global automotive supplier. She hosts the Finding Gravitas podcast.