Authentic Leaders: Personal and Critical Reflection

According to Starratt (2004), an authentic leader brings himself or herself and everything he or she believes in his or her work. It is common to find definitions of authentic leadership to also include descriptions such as transparent, consistent, and accountable. Evans (2000) argues that trust is key in any type of leadership. Thus, authentic leaders, by default, should be trustworthy. Kouzes and Posner (2007) explain that trust ensures that people believe in who a leader is, and not necessarily the leadership style that the person employs.

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It is interesting to note that many scholars also believe that an authentic leader should have integrity. This term is defined by Evans (2000) as the perfect balance between values, goals, and actions. Indeed, some leaders have integrity but are still not perfect. Authenticity encourages imperfection and the ability to be seen with both strengths and weaknesses. Starratt (2004) cautions that a person with integrity is not necessarily a perfect person. In fact, at no point does Kouzes and Posner (2007) mention that a person with integrity is honest. However, both Evans (2000) and Starratt (2004) agree that an authentic leader has to have integrity.

This paper analyzes three leaders that I have interacted with personally. The essay will give their characteristics and link those to some aspects of authentic leaders. The three chosen leaders are Ananya Ibrahim who is a children rights advocate, Kunaal Sharma, a small business owner that has currently hired 30 people, and Aashi Kumar who is a social entrepreneur who has come up with an innovation to help train health care workers at their work stations. The three chosen leaders have different visions and leadership styles but they can all still be described as authentic leaders due to their achievements.

Authentic Leader 1: Ananya Ibrahim

I met Ananya Ibrahim through a mutual friend. She works as an advocate and has focused more on children’s rights. Despite not being a teacher, my interaction with Ananya equipped my new knowledge. She has a discussion session at a local school with thought leaders and other stakeholders on how to protect children. I became frequent in these weekly discussions where I gained much knowledge about the law and its interpretation. The ability to learn from her work has led to the development of a professional relationship that has lasted three years now. It is important to also note that Ananya is also employed as a company secretary. Her discussions and other related activities in regards to children are done in her spare time.

Characteristics and Traits

Duignan (2013) argues that authentic leaders should have the ability to mold ethically-driven, deep, rich, engaging, and high-performing learners. Ananya showcases this by, for example, allowing upcoming lawyers to also attend her weekly discussions. Gibbs (2006) also adds that authentic leaders can connect people. The same example of the discussion sessions and panels can be used to showcase how Ananya achieved this. The younger professionals get to mingle with their mentors and also learn more about the law.

Ananya’s work also makes it easier for her to connect with other people, and also to encourage other people in her circlet network. For instance, he works as a company secretary allows her to meet with different stakeholders that are working in the same field as the company she works for. Additionally, she invites diverse people to her discussion panels. This allows for the guests to mingle with one another, and for her to continue growing her networks. It is crucial to point out that Ananya does not work alone. She has two other volunteer lawyers who help her set up the discussions.

Analysis and Justifications

In analyzing Ananya, one can argue that she is passionate about her work, and this ties closely to her character as an authentic leader. Lee (2010) argues that an authentic leader leads from the heart and the soul. One can argue that the passion Ananya exhibits indicate that she is leading from her heart.

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For instance, she approaches institutions and law firms to request that young lawyers interested in children’s law be allowed to attend her discussions in an attempt to shape the perception of the younger generation of lawyers on the same topic. According to Fry (2003), the spiritual leadership approach of an authentic leader is mainly motivational and inspiring to enhance a sense of togetherness (Gibbs, 2006. Ananya highlights this by bringing significant people in the field of child law together to discuss and solve issues related to that specific field.

Authentic Leader 2: Kunaal Sharma

The second leader I chose for this assignment is Kunaal Sharma. At age 30, Kunaal owns a small enterprise that has hired 30 people from one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in India. I interned for his company a few years ago. I was directly supervised by Kunaal for six months. Born in a high caste, Kunaal was privileged enough to study in some of the best schools in the country. Due to his exposure, he was able to learn advanced IT. After school, he began a for-profit company and sought to hire only highly qualified people but from lower castes to at least improve their economic status despite still being in the same group. It is crucial to state that the success of Kunaal’s company has been tied to both his connections as a high-ranking member of society and his leadership skills

One can argue that Kunaal is both a transactional and transformational leader. It is important to note that Marotz and Lawson (2007) argue that these two types of leadership styles can be tied to an authentic leader as will be explained all through this section. Marotz and Lawson (2007) explain that a transactional leader uses power and authority to ensure cooperation. Gibbs (2006) adds that such leaders use different forms of incentives to motivate their employees. One might argue that a transactional person cannot be an authentic leader. However, this is hardly the case. As mentioned previously, an authentic leader is not described using their leadership approach but rather their impact. This refers to the leaders’ impact on both his or her followers and on the organization, he or she is working in.

Characteristics and Traits

One of Kunaal’s most prominent characteristics is his ambition. Indeed, the success of his company can be tied to his networks and he has used these networks to push his ambition further. His ambition for his company is to grow it into one of the largest businesses in the country. Being a member of a highly recognizable family in India, and being in the top caste, ensures that he has the connections needed to boost his business.

However, Kunaal did not just use his connections to build his company. His ambition played a key role in ensuring the growth of the company in less than one year since its inception. One can state that an authentic leader is also ambitious. The linkage is brought on by the fact that authentic leaders strive to grow and be influential within their spaces. I interacted with Kunaal in his office when I was doing my first internship. Despite culture and his position, he was very hands-on in the business to ensure everything ran smoothly. He also treated his employees well to ensure they were always motivated to work. For example, he introduced the concept of flexible hours when many small enterprises do not allow for such.

One would also describe Kunaal as controlling. His hands-on approach ensured that he made every decision in the company. Additionally, no one in the company is allowed to make any decision unless it was approved prior by the owner of the company. This has affected his business in two ways. The first is that it has slowed down the decision-making process. Departments within the company have to stall some of their activities since everything has to be approved by one person.

Secondly, the system in place forces Kunaal to never take a break off work. This has left him fatigued and without motivation on some occasions. When I worked in the company as an intern, I learned a lot from Kunaal. He chooses to mentor everyone and this ensured that I grasped some aspects of running a business. Additionally, I also learned about the importance of collaboration in the workplace.

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Analysis and Justifications

One can argue that the transformational character Kunaal highlights makes him credible. Indeed, an in-depth look at the characteristics of Kunaal will show that he harbors both transactional and transformational leadership traits. However, his dominant style is transformational and this further solidifies why he can be described as an authentic leader. He allows his staff to do their tasks without expecting perfection. He also encourages them to learn from their mistakes. Marotz and Lawson (2007) explain that the transactional leader will always lose the position due to high employee turnover. They suggest that transactional leaders focus on becoming transformational instead to ensure the satisfaction of their employees. The transformational leader uses creativity and vision to push his agendas.

It can also be suggested that Kunaal is trustworthy and credible as he encourages the growth of talent in his company (Evans, 2000). For example, as an intern, he was very keen on ensuring I learned all I could. Duignan (2013) explains that authentic leaders teach their staff to make them better. He allowed me to ask questions freely and would go further to provide books and links he thought would help me in my career line.

He also treated his other employees in the same way. Indeed, his employees were allowed to also showcase their leadership traits. He had a roaster where each employee, despite the job they did, would-be leader and organize the organization’s activities. This further points to his character as an authentic leader as he allows others to grow.

Kouzes and Posner (2007) argue that an authentic leader has to be credible. Despite his shortcomings, Kunaal can be described as credible because he has built a company and provided employment for 30 people within the last 4 years. His credibility is not only due to his business prowess but also due to the staffing processes in his company. For example, as mentioned previously, he has only hired people from a lower caste, who are qualified for their positions, as a way of ensuring their economic stability. Kouzes and Posner (2007) add that an authentic leader’s actions are more relevant than his or her words.

For example, Kunaal told his employees that he would introduce a flexi system and went further to consult a technology company that installed a program for the same. This ensured accountability for all staff. Nicholson and Carroll (2015) argue that an authentic leader is true to him/herself. One can relate this to Kunaal in two ways. The first is through his determination to hire people of a lower caste despite cultural differences.

Authentic Leader 3: Aashi Kumar

Aashi Kumar is a 27-year-old lady currently working as a social entrepreneur. I interacted with Aashi when I volunteered in one of her events. Her company, Rozzby, deals with issues of female empowerment and the protection of girls. She has 10 employees and people are also allowed to volunteer on a needs basis. Her work is very relevant in India because it has one of the highest percentages of girl brides in the world.

Additionally, the safety of women in India has become the main concern for both government and non-governmental organizations due to the attacks, both physical and sexual, that have targeted women and girls. Aashi has on various occasions explained that her passion is driven by an assault she went through when she was 16 years old. She was attacked and violated on her way to school. She has explained that due to the lack of structures at the time, she did not know who to report the incident to, and went on with her life.

Her social enterprise seeks to offer information and empower women and girls to be able to protect themselves in such dangerous situations. Some of the activities the company does are offer lessons on laws and policies that guide the protection of girls and women in India. They provide information on some organizations that help affected women as well. This information is sent to the subscriber on their mobile at no charge. To make money and make her company sustainable, Aashi offers physical training on how to evade a potential attacker. Several companies have signed up their female employees for classes to ensure their protection. Individuals are also free to apply for the classes. I have known the leader for four years now and worked as a volunteer in one of her events as mentioned.

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Characteristics and Traits

Aashi is very confident. She has used her story to protect girls and women in India. Her assault was a traumatizing experience yet she is confident that speaking about it will help other victims come out and get the help they need. Her confidence has allowed her to not only create a viable platform for girls and women but also provides for her family. The social enterprise while helping girls and women also acts as a source of income for Aashi and her family. One can argue that Aashi is an authentic leader as she leads from the heart. It is prudent to mention that leading from the heart does not necessarily suggest that the person in question does not use logic to make decisions. Aashi leads from the heart by being passionate and people-driven (George, 2000). However, she also employs logic in all her decisions (Lee, 2010).

Another characteristic that is worth discussing is her sense of purpose. This sense of purpose has allowed her to come up with strategies that work for the benefit of her target group (Rodd, 2012). For example, she is driven by her purpose to ensure the safety of girls in women in her society. This is why she started her organization in the first place. Her sense of purpose is also embedded in her vision which is to have a safe society for girls and women.

Additionally, she leads by example and this has helped people trust her easily. In turn, this trust has allowed her to offer her services genuinely while also molding her business model. The biggest percentage of her human resource is made up of volunteers. These volunteers trust and believe in the vision she bears and it is this reason that encourages them to offer their services and expertise to the social enterprise. The following section will justify why the characteristics displayed by Aashi indicate that she is an authentic leader.

Analysis and Justifications

O’Loughlin (2009) states that one of the biggest challenges of being an authentic leader is facing oneself. The author gives an account of his life, his struggles, and how he became an authentic leader. The arguments he makes can be applied to the case of Aashi.

First, the discovery of self is a prolonged and at times painful journey that leaves the person with a total understanding of his or her way of thought. O’Loughlin (2009) explains that the journey of self is usually prompted by something. In Aashi, this journey began after her attack. Indeed, going through such tragic events does not automatically make someone an authentic leader. However, the affected person’s reaction to the incident might. Aashi did not feel sorry for herself but instead saw an opportunity to let others learn from her story.

One can also argue that Aashi is a servant leader. Smith (2005) explains that servant leadership is a framework that suggests that leadership should only be motivated by service to others. Servant and authentic leadership are tied by the importance of vision (Duignan, 2013). Both servant and authentic leaders are driven by their vision. Towards this end, an authentic and servant leader like Aashi is driven by the needs and happiness of others and not necessarily his or her own. As stated previously, one of the objectives of Rozzby is to help educate girls and women on issues of gender violence and empowerment.

Even though the cause is very personal for Aashi, it is for the benefit of her target audience. To some extent, Aashi can be viewed as a teacher as her company provides information. Looking at it this way, one can also justify that Aashi is an authentic leader as she has an enduring belief about the desirability of her cause (Notman, 2010). She has been able to pull in other stakeholders to support her as well.


In conclusion, many characteristics can be associated with an authentic leader. The assignment required the identification of three authentic leaders that I have interacted with over the last couple of years. The three authentic leaders I have interacted with are Ananya Ibrahim, Kunaal Sharma, and Aashi Kumar. Ananya Ibrahim is an advocate for children’s rights while Kunaal Sharma is a business leader currently running an IT company that has 30 employees.

The third leader, Aashi, is a social entrepreneur who is giving back to the community by offering information to girls and women on empowerment and protection. She also runs a training department in her company that teaches physical combat to protect girls and women from assaults. These three leaders have different but equally important characteristics for authentic leaders.

For example, whereas Aashi is driven by people and the needs of the community, Kunaal is driven by business and the ability to hire people who can better take care of their families. It is important to note that there are no good or bad authentic leaders. The three leaders mentioned in the paper, use different leadership styles and strategies However, they have equally beneficial impacts on their communities. Above all, they are true to themselves and this makes them authentic leaders. It is also important to note that the authenticity of a leader is not only determined by his or her leadership style but also other aspects of management such as the ability to motivate people to work towards a common goal regardless of the type of incentive given.

Reference List

Duignan, P. (2013). Leading with moral purpose and authenticity. [EBSCO eBooks version]. Web.

Evans, R. (2000). The authentic leader. In the Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA: Author.

Fry, L. W. (2003). Toward a theory of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 14, 693 – 727.

George, J. M. (2000). Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. Human Relations, 53(8), 1027–1055.

Gibbs, C. J. (2006). To be a teacher: Journeys towards authenticity. Wellington, New Zealand: Pearson Education.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed., pp. 27-41). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Lee W. (2010). Leading by heart and soul: Using magic, being moral, creating merriment and mobilising others. Every Child, 16(4), 4.

Marotz, L., & Lawson, A. (2007). Transactional and transformational leadership. Motivational leadership in early childhood education. Clifton Park, NY: Cengage Delmar Learning.

Nicholson, H. & Carroll, B. (2015). Essay: So you want to be authentic in your leadership: To whom and for what end? In A Ladkin, D. (Ed.) Authentic leadership clashes, convergences and coalescences (pp. 286 – 301). New York, NY: Edgar Elgar Publishing.

Notman, R. (2010). Who lies within? The personal development of educational leaders. Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 25(2), 16.

Palmer, P. J. (1997). The heart of a teacher: identity and integrity in teaching. Web.

Rodd, J. (2012). Leadership in early childhood. Maidenhead, UK: McGraw-Hill Education.

Smith, C. (2005). Servant leadership: The leadership theory of Robert K. Greenleaf. Unpublished coursework. Web.

Starratt, R. J. (2004). Ethical leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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