Authentic Leaders Eat Last

Ever wonder why some leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg keep winning with their stakeholders while others like Pharma Price hiker Martin Shkreli and Volkswagen’s Martin Winterkorn face public rebuke and loss of reputation? For the last 16 years, I have been collaborating and researching leadership, business trust and open standards of relationship capital credibility.

Authentic leaders, lead by intentionally doing what is right. The challenge with practicing authentic and ethical leadership is that it is difficult to define “right”. First, The authentic leader acts and makes decisions ethically. Second, the authentic leader leads by example by demonstrating their competency, ethics and guiding principles in their social interactions with their stakeholders.

Traditionally, the view of business leadership has been that the main goal above all others is to increase production and profits. This traditional view of leadership is fading, as more thought leaders in the 21st century are asserting that leaders also have the responsibility for adhering to open standards of moral and ethical behavior. Authentic leadership refers not only to competence but also to ethics and changing people for the better.

The following are characteristics of authentic leaders of high relationship capital credibility:

1. Authentic leaders do what is right

Their behavior, in its simplest terms, is understanding and doing what is right. The difficulty is in defining “right.” Different individuals, different cultures, and different religions define it in different ways. The general treatment of women and mindsets toward slavery in different cultures and at different times in history provide prime examples of how what’s “right” can vary.

2. Authentic leaders do the difficult

Authentic leaders distinguish themselves by doing that which is difficult, disliked, and even unprofitable in the short-term for the creation of long-term vitality and value. They view the world as interconnected and develop end-to-end solutions to address complex problems that appear in the course of business operations. Rather than routinely extending payment terms to a supplier during economic downturns, authentic leaders study the financial strength of the supplier and/or partner, possible negative impacts to the supplier (as well as to the supplier’s employees and its suppliers — and to the company itself) if payment terms are lengthened.

3. Authentic leaders are open and agile

business leaders also consider other solutions (e.g., sharing best practices with suppliers and partners) that may require an investment but generate more value over the long term. Authentic leaders extend relationship capital trust to their employees, creating an empowering environment necessary to enable employees, suppliers, partners, and even customers to take the required risks to produce breakthrough innovations. For example, the Ritz-Carlton’s leadership team authorizes each employee to spend up to $2,000 to resolve customer issues at his or her own judgment.

4. Authentic Leaders Practice Guiding Principles of Relationship Capital

As business leaders start to focus on elevating their business cultures to compete & behave more effectively. Clearly understanding and practicing these principles will be foundational to winning with high relationship capital or RC trust.

What’s more, authentic and ethical business leadership is a renewable human resource and, for this reason, represents one of the most efficient and practical assets an organization can put to use in a hyperconnected, transparent, and morally interdependent world.

If we want a sustainable business we need to practice sustainable principles or values. In order to consistently earn relationship capital credibility, a team of volunteers almost 10 years ago agreed that authentic leaders practice the following seven principles:


Authentic leaders put their people in control and let their shared purpose and values drive higher levels of performance that are underpinned by high relationship capital trust. For Authentic leaders, it is less about command and control and much more about influence and support. Leading a team of fellow authentic leaders and followers within their organization and across their entire ecosystem of customers, partners, and suppliers that attract top talent, distinction, innovation, and financial performance. They visibly demonstrate their guiding principles/values with actions. They go beyond mere words. They earn relationship capital because they deliver on their commitments and inspire their people to do the same. The authentic leader eats last because they care for, support, and proactively give to their stakeholders.

Rob Peters