True leaders are human

Dec 21 2015 by Duane Dike Print This Article

Being a leader is much more complicated than simply acting leader-like. True leadership (the type that changes lives by giving followers self-respect and value with the windfall of changing attitude and behavior) is good for organizational performance and product quality. True leadership is quality-based. Fake leadership is leader-like sound-bites of things leaders might say.

The correlation between true leadership and organizational performance has only recently been studied. Until now, research has focused more on the actions of leaders as a way of motivating followers to, well, follow. Recent study has shifted to what researchers are calling true, real, or authentic leadership, the type that changes the way workers think about the things they do instead of doing things because they are ordered to.


True leadership is the stuff of relationships. Research has shown correlations between boss-employee relationships and organizational production. The side benefits of good relationships are psychological freedom, greater propensity to think about the work, and more ethical behavior. In effect, true leadership changes workers in the way they view the organization. Changing perspectives is what personal development is all about. Development is not (necessarily) learning new tasks. Bad employees, and even bad managers for that matter, know how to do the work and can often recite procedures from memory. But doing the work is only half the battle. Doing the work with the right frame of mind is the greater goal.

Another way to look at this concept of true leadership and relationships is to think of behaviors as being authentic, or genuine. Authentic leaders don't pretend to be anyone other than who they are: human beings in some sort of organizational authority. True leaders will emulate behaviors of other respected leaders without fakery.

Leader-Like Behavior

Leader-like behavior without the right personal qualities tends to tear apart team cohesiveness, fostering unmotivated, frustrated employees. True leadership is such that employees feel a sense of confidence, hope, and optimism, or, as I like to say, happiness. My mantra: happy employees are productive and safe employees. I can't think of a single industry where happy/content employees wouldn't be right for an organization.

Now for the tough part, how are leader-like behaviors converted to true leadership (the good kind)? The trick is for leaders to be more self-aware of how their behavior is perceived by others. Every leader decision, move, and word is scrutinized by followers for adherence to organizational culture. We've heard over and over that leader behavior doesn't shape organizational culture, it is organizational culture. Working environments are seen by employees through the lens of leader behavior. Seemingly insignificant or pesky issues become huge problems when leaders are not self-aware of their own effect on employee morale.

Leader-like behavior is fake and can't be masked as something other than what it is. Fake, or placebo leadership comes across as insincere, chipping away at morale and trust. (Note: placebos can often be effective for short periods but are ineffective in the long run.)

Benefits of True Leadership - Extrovert or Introvert

Under true leader models, leaders don't need to be the extroverted, charismatic types. Introverted leaders can be just as effective, in their own way. Introverted leaders can be comfortable in the awareness of their introspective personalities. Introverted true-leaders can be great members of small teams through their ability to nurture strong one-on-one relationships. At the other end of the spectrum, extroverted true-leaders can be more effective in large teams through their charismatic personalities.

In either true-leader case, introverted or extroverted, authentic leaders are change masters by changing the way workers think about their jobs. Through evolutionary progress of relationship building, followers trust that authentic leaders (extroverted or introverted) will do what is necessary to cultivate happy, collaborative, and supportive cultures.

True-leadership is a component of character and personal brand. As leaders become more in-tune with their true selves, they become kinder and more considerate of employee needs. Again, leadership is the stuff of relationships. True leadership is humble. Authentic leaders have a transformational ability to think and act outward in ways where they will admit mistakes and congratulate accomplishment. True leaders are more tolerant, considerate, and motivational.


Bad leaders are simply bad for business. Negatively-perceived leader behavior hurts morale, increases turnover, and lowers productivity and quality. Can these bad leaders change the way they come across to followers? Through coaching, possibly, but at some point if bad leaders refuse to change, the best choice might be to remove them from leadership positions. The damage they do to productivity and quality can't be tolerated.

"Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude." - William James, philosopher/psychologist.

more articles

About The Author

Duane Dike
Duane Dike

Duane Dike is the manager of creative production for a large entertainment company in Southern California. He has a doctorate in management and organizational leadership and an MBA in management. He is a popular guest speaker for education and management groups on subjects related to innovation, leadership and thinking.