MayKao Y. Hang at Wilder Latino Leadership Program graduation

3 Lessons About Authentic Leadership


Wilder takes leadership development seriously, and not only because we offer distinct leadership programs for youth, community members, experienced professionals and executives. Values-based and authentic leadership is a sustainable strategy for creating change in organizations, communities and systems.

I have led change and watched others do it throughout my career. Based on these experiences, here are three lessons I’ve learned about authentic, values-based leadership.

1. Leadership is the process of being revealed to the world.

When you lead, your weaknesses and strengths are on display. The curtain is open to your inner stage. This is why it’s important to know who you are and be authentic. Build a strong team to support your work. Ask people for feedback and know whose opinions matter to you most. Since none of us is perfect, cultivate what Harvard business professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George calls your “True North,” the combination of your values, beliefs and purpose that helps you know what you want to accomplish.

2. Top roles require us to lead change into the unknown.

I have hired, or helped hire, hundreds of leaders. Boards and employers take a leap of faith about a leader’s fit, values, passion and self-awareness when they move someone into a senior leadership position. Soft skills, like the ability to establish trust and credibility, have become even more important. Another critical characteristic is a leader’s ability to move beyond what’s comfortable. We rely on senior leaders to take us into the unknown, which is scary and requires risk taking. If leaders stay comfortable, they can’t make progress.

3. Regardless of sector, great leaders have similar capabilities and traits, though their management styles may be different.

The private, public and nonprofit sectors all have their own bottom line.  For example, nonprofit leaders work toward a dual bottom line – supporting their organization’s mission and succeeding financially. Public administrators interpret and create public value with taxpayer dollars. I have found not one single archetype leader. Across sectors, impactful leaders can be reserved and analytical, expressive and extroverted, or quiet listeners and insightful observers. These leaders know themselves and they understand the sector in which they are working so that they are oriented toward the “right bottom line.”

When leaders are authentic, are prepared to take us into the unknown, and understand the purpose and goals of their primary work, they can develop stronger, more effective organizations that can benefit society.

Photo: Wilder President and CEO MayKao Y. Hang addressed graduates of the Latino Leadership Program at Wilder Center in May 2019.



Developing & Nurturing Diverse Community Leaders & Changemakers

Cultivating diverse, values and purpose-driven leaders who positively impact their communities is a core priority of Wilder Foundation’s mission. Through our distinct community leadership programs and consulting services for leadership training and development, we help individuals and organizations ignite and reach their full potential!