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5 Characteristics of Authentic Leaders

Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum
Published:  08/26/2016

The title of boss equates to that of a leader, but being a leader is so much more than a title; you need a strategic vision to guide others. Leadership relies on an ability to express your beliefs, rather than through a formalized approach.

Becoming a “character-based leader” does not happen overnight. It’s a journey that is made up of individual contributions, which eventually leads into a leadership position. Setbacks are normal when you are first cast in a leadership position. You have to learn how to lead quickly as new challenges naturally arise. How you deal with those problems will mold your leadership style.

Becoming an authentic leader requires building the following five characteristics in yourself, which come from Bill George’s book, Authentic Leaders.



Purpose is something that inspires as it pulls people together. It focuses attention on what matters most and guides action. Purpose is necessary to lead others because it gives you a specific direction to follow.


Core Values

Core values are formed over time, but self-contemplation is needed to identify them. Once identified, you must follow these in practice, in order to promote consistency between what you say and how you act. Both individuals and foundations should express their values so that it becomes easier to connect over shared ideals.


Trusting Relations

Building trust is significant because relationships built on trust grow strong. Trusting relationships are lifelines that keep organizations afloat during times of trouble. Here are a few tips to build trusting relationships with donors.

  • Be accessible. Create many points of contact in order to give donors a clear picture of who you are. Social media is a great way to accomplish this.
  • Share your story. On the “About Staff” page, provide a story that allows the reader to follow your career path. Include a photo of yourself so donors can match your name to your face.
  • Don’t use a generic info@info.org email address. Using a personal email address will create a tone of familiarity and friendliness with the donor.



Self-discipline involves acting according to what you think instead of how you feel in the moment. To be an authentic leader, you must remain calm no matter how high your stress levels reach. Restraint creates an air of respect, which makes others more comfortable when interacting with you.


Act from the Heart

The two words that summarize acting from the heart are passion and compassion. To develop these traits, you need to follow your own path and be true to yourself. You can demonstrate passion and compassion in many ways, such as through event participation, enthusiasm, or knowledge in your field.

Applying these principles to organizations

In order for your foundation to represent the five characteristics of an authentic leader, you need to have a mission-driven organization. Missions attract donors and increase board and development officers’ involvement because they put forth clear goals.

A story is the best way to communicate your mission because it can demonstrate the five characteristics of leaders in an engaging way. A mission-driven story has the potential to ignite passion and compassion so that big changes can happen for your organization.


NEWS  /10/10/14
Here's why the most important personality trait for a successful fundraiser is emotional intelligence.
NEWS  /12/15/16
Ask yourself, am I being the kind of leader that I would want to follow?” said Dick Vollet, President & CEO of St. Paul’s Foundation
NEWS  /02/14/18
Adapted from a 2017 AHP Annual International Conference presentation by Lori Counts, Principal Consultant, Accordant Philanthropy and Julie Cox, FAHP, VP of Development, LifeBridge Health

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Leah Eustace and R. Scott Fortnum

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