Your amazing online presence is right this way.

Create your profile
Capture who you are, what you do, and where you're going. All in one place.


More Career Tips for You

How Women Can Balance Strong Leadership with Authenticity

Career Advice |

As women, we face unique challenges as leaders, whether we work in the corporate world or as business owners. There seems to be a large chasm between female leaders who too easily sacrifice authority, and iron-fisted women who never budge once their minds are made up.

Unfortunately, neither approach is effective in a long-term leadership position.

There are many aspects of leadership, but the core question is this: as strong and capable women, how can we lead without being labeled bossy, b*tchy, or worse?

Authenticity Matters

It’s easy to play the game and pander to what others expect us to be in the workplace. However, when strong leadership becomes synonymous with negative labels like “controlling” and “demanding,” the female leader has not only lost her power, but often her respect as well.

Early in my career, I observed a much younger manager effectively lead her older subordinates during a conflict. In trying to meet a shipping deadline, it was all hands on deck, but one team member was questioning every decision. This young manager very kindly but firmly stated, “I am happy to discuss the reasons why with you later, but at this moment we need your help without question to get this out the door.” I was both impressed by the balanced approach and intrigued by how her leadership style struck the balance between confident, executive and collaborative leader.

I turned to Professional Mentor and Career Acceleration Coach at Illustra Consulting Sarah Hathorn for advice about women who want to lead without losing themselves in the process.

“Women who by lead by mimicking men reveal a lack of professional identity,” said Hathorn. “Professional confidence is not gender-based; it’s all about authenticity and developing the qualities that resonate with who you are.” To find their own authentic style, leaders need realistic assessments — ones that highlight where they need to develop a more professional presence.

If you’re struggling to find your authentic style, follow these three steps:

  1. First, look to leaders you admire. Observe their traits, how they interact within a team and work under pressure. It may be worthwhile to pursue mentorship so you can work together with your leadership development in mind.
  2. Second, stop putting yourself first. Leadership is an exercise in service, and as John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” It’s a tricky balance because as a figure of authority, you must often be the deciding voice on things. Instead of focusing on your authority, Hathorn recommends starting from a place of service. For women who “lead as a coach by giving support, training, encouragement, mentorship and resources, employees will become loyal followers whom you can lead to victory.” Service involves putting your own advancement and ego aside to focus on the needs of the team and business.
  3. Third, find and refine the balance between personal and professional. Hathorn recommends getting to know your team, but setting clear boundaries and expectations. “When you’re working, it’s important to perform to get results; after work, time is for relaxation and personal relationships.” Professional behavior and authenticity have to go hand in hand — while you may be open about your personal life or struggles with friends, the same sharing can negatively impact your leadership at the office. Oftentimes a casual and collaborative leadership approach, which women gravitate towards, can easily be sabotaged by overly personal behavior or even things like apparel.

Embodying your authentic leadership style is a process, but it sends a powerful statement and commands respect. In the end, it’s not about conformity or mimicry, but looking within yourself to find the style that resonates with you — and wearing it, inside and out, with confidence.

Besides, being labeled “bossy” is still better than being “fake.”

Kelly Azevedo is the founder of She’s Got Systems, a custom coaching program that leads clients to get support, documenting and dominating in their fields. She has worked in startup, successful six-figure and million-dollar online businesses, helping owners create the systems to serve their needs.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.


← Previous Article Next Article →


careeradvice leadership


It's so tempting to adopt another person's leadership style wholesale, but this is a good reminder to find the one style - or combination of styles - that is perfectly "you".


I agree with all 3 points that (YEC) pointed out in this article. The one that mostly live by would be #3 . find and refine the balance between personal and professional. I'am a strong believer in work comes first and recess comes later.


Whole-heartedly agree with #3. Well said!


“Professional confidence is not gender-based; it’s all about authenticity and developing the qualities that resonate with who you are.” — I love this! It's so true. There are so many women leaders who try to emulate men and turn out to be too controlling. I think women are in a good position to lead already it's putting out, like you said, our authentic selves that will propel us to become really great leaders. Thanks so much again for posting this!


I love this post so much because I think that any woman who is an aspiring leader is saddled with the responsibility of finding a style that is completely, authentically her's; Not a man's, not her mentor's, not her peer's. When we can stay true to ourselves, we will be effective.


“Women who by lead by mimicking men reveal a lack of professional identity,” said Hathorn. This is so true - you have to find your style and your voice, and utilize the interpersonal skills that you have without compromising your femininity. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart and that I covered in my Fortune post about Marissa Mayer and the importance of femininity:

Elana Gross

I agree that is so important to be authentic. Marissa Mayer is a great example of someone balances strong leadership and authenticity.


I think being authentic comes first... without authenticity no leadership.

Carly Heitlinger

YES! I think observing leadership styles you like and tweaking them to fit your personality is the best. Coming off as "fake" will absolutely hurt your effectiveness as a leader.


The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.