Women Leading with Authenticity

February 13, 2019
  • AACRAO Publications
  • Leadership

What does it mean for a woman to lead authentically? Some might say it’s leading honestly or leading through a lens of what’s best for a particular situation while others might say it’s leading through best practices. I say it’s leading with your heart and using experiences to define your truth for others to see and follow daily. If women are to lead in their truth, then why is it so difficult to do? Does your team know what you advocate for? Leading with authenticity is knowing who you are and knowing your core beliefs, no matter where you are and what you do. Not being an authentic leader will hinder you from reaching your full potential.

Being a woman leader in higher education has many challenges. I often reflect on the careers I attained and the advice I gave to students and colleagues only to realize I have always been an advocate for improvement, advancement, and fairness. I ask myself daily: “Did I do my best?” “Did I give the best advice?” “Did I train others properly?” “Did I serve my team to the best of my ability?” “Did I advocate for what’s right?” Many questions build on the others, but one always rises to the top: “Was I giving my best self?” There is a difference between doing your best and giving your best self. Doing your best can, at times, be set by someone else’s expectations and guidance; giving your best self is how you measure yourself in what you do. I call this “self-check pointing.” Reflecting every day is good for the soul. When you drive home, think about your day and how you maneuvered. What or who hindered you from being true to the decisions you made, and why?

There is another part to being an authentic leader, and that’s losing yourself in the process of leading. I have often had conversations with professionals for whom their work is their life and their identity is their position. Where is the balance in that? How do you become lost in tasks and forget to self-care? What you do does not define who you are. If you can’t separate those two points, you have lost yourself.

According to Kevin Kruse of Forbes magazine, an authentic leader is self–aware and genuine, mission driven and focused on results, and leads with heart and focuses on the long term. Being an authentic leader is holistic and intentional. As women, we are known for having two (or more) lives outside of work. We are mothers, wives, caretakers, friends, sisters, aunts, and some may be activists and/or advocates in their communities and religious organizations. Yet at the end of it all, when there is a moment of silence and you are settled in with your own sound, who are you?

Women, we must not forget that our allegiance should first be with ourselves. In managing staff, helping students, advocating for equality and equity in the workplace, cooking, cleaning, managing a household, or being an adult student in graduate school, we must learn to take care of ourselves in a holistic way. Giving 100 percent to work and being deflated once the work clock ends is not being authentic; it’s allowing you to “lose” you.

To lead authentically, you must know how. It’s always easier said than done, but it’s more than doable. Kickstart your way of doing things by doing what I have throughout the years:

  1. Take care of your body:
  2. a. Eat better.
    b. Drink more water daily.
    c. Exercise (walking for 20 minutes daily is easy).
    d. Go to bed (create a ritual to allow your body and brain to relax and rest). A mind that is always active can have difficulty shutting down at night, causing poor sleeping habits and irritation. Consider how you sleep. Take the television out of the bedroom; do not read; dim the lighting.

  3. Dedicate 30 minutes each day (or night) to meditate or reflect. This helps center your self and works on your core.

  4. Dedicate some time at work to review your day and organize your work life. Block time on your calendar daily for this purpose.

  5. Prioritize your day:
  6. a. Before going home from work each day, list what needs to be done the following day. Check items off when completed, and keep making progress on the others.
    b. Delegate: you don’t have to do everything yourself.
    c. Don’t work late unless it’s absolutely necessary.

  7. Think before you speak. This will allow time for you to develop an honest response (this takes practice for people like me, but it works).

  8. Advocate for what’s right. Don’t waver. Believe in what you advocate for. If you have apprehensions, step back and work through them.

  9. Choose your battles wisely. Not everything is worth the fight or the attention.

  10. Only change what you know you can. Provide guidance for the other things.

  11. Start over again tomorrow…

Your day-to-day does not have to be in isolation. Using others to help with your goal and decision making is a good thing. It can’t always be “your” way, and to be honest, why should it? For many of us, leading authentically takes work; often we fall short, but in this life—in higher education—we are easily swooped up by the daily grind and lose focus on ourselves. Acknowledge that if you are leading, you can set the tone for greatness. Certainly, some environments and people make us crazy. Nevertheless, find your balance, find your truth, and keep them. Perform daily with a smile and a pure heart. Someone once said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Practice to be your best self by doing your best work. Not only will you see positive change, but you will also build a memorable reputation that others will want to follow.


Kristy Goodwin, M.Ed., M.M., serves as the College Pathways Program Director at Governors State University (GSU) in University Park, Illinois. She works with students who attend high schools near the university, preparing them for postsecondary education and experiences. Prior her current role, she created and initiated Governors State University’s first Recruitment Department, where she served as the director for recruitment and outreach for more than five years. As GSU transitioned from an upper-division institution to a four-year full comprehensive university, Goodwin increased student enrollment as well as the undergraduate Latino population in her first year. Previously, she worked for fifteen years at Rush University, where she served in many enrollment management leadership roles.  

She acquired her bachelor’s degree in higher education from DePaul University and a master’s of education in instructional leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago as well as a master’s of management from Robert Morris University Chicago. She is currently attending McCormick Theological Seminary, where she is beginning her journey toward a doctoral degree.

Goodwin has served on many committees throughout her career. She is currently a member of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s African American Advisory Council and of AACRAO’s Professional Development Committee, and she is chair of the Black Caucus and a member of REACh-Chicago Organization.

She has mentored many students and professionals and considers mentoring her passion. She is a coach for GALLUPS Successful Strengths Program, where she works with various professionals and students focusing on their strengths for daily success.

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