“Authenticity” is an overused word for an interesting and important idea. For most of us, it only starts to feel exciting when we see it in practice. Authenticity isn’t just an idea then. It’s something we do. And it’s something we better understand if we want to follow through on our goals for ourselves or our organizations or those ideas we have for the world (often that the world needs badly).

So here are 5 women leaders who, to me, are shining examples of authentic leadership. They are leaders to watch who happen to be women at a time when the world really needs more women’s voices.

How are they “authentic?” They know who they are and what they believe, make the bold, different and unexpected moves, and take stances or say the hard things. In so doing, they push conversations, organizations, and movements forward. They also just inspire the heck out of me.

adichie
Credit: npr.org

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I first learned of Adichie through her TED talk “The Danger of Single Story,” one of the best teachings on what respect for difference really means that I’ve ever seen. Since then Adichie has published her third novel, “Americanah,” and written this fantastic little piece on fashion/so much more than fashion for Elle last month. (Ever “dress down” or dress plainly in order to be taken seriously)? Adichie used to, too, and is done with that now.

Sarah Milstein
As CEO of Lean Startup Productions, Milstein is a leader in the entrepreneurship scene, teaching businesses how to thrive in uncertain times who is writing about gender equity (and gender balance at conferences) every step of the way. Check out her piece “Putting an End to Conferences Dominated by White Men” in Harvard Business Review. Milstein saw a problem, named it, then went beyond this to offer concrete advice on how to address it.

Natalia Oberti Noguera
Oberti Noguera heads up Pipeline Fellowship, a program teaching women how to become angel investors in women-led startups, recently featured on NPR. Whether she’s helping all of us understand that it’s a human thing to invest in those entrepreneurs “who look like us”—so it makes sense to get more women and women of color investing—or calling on organizations to #changetheratio and feature a much greater diversity of voices—Oberti Noguera is deepening conversations left and right and making us all look at our own biases.

Meryl
Credit: npr.org

Meryl Streep
I’ve always liked Meryl Streep for her acting and the fact that she’s so down to Earth. But these days, I’m impressed by how beautifully she is standing up for other women. Whether you agree with Hillary Clinton’s politics or not, Streep gave Clinton an incredible introduction at the 2012 Women in The World Summit that still gives me goose bumps. This is what supporting each other looks like. And far too often we forget this—supporting each other’s projects is leadership, too.

Rebecca Traister
While most folks were shouting “Lean in!” or “Lean out!” after the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” last year, journalist Rebecca Traister cut through the noise recently with her piece for The New Republic, “The Uselessness of Hating Sheryl Sandberg.” She calls for women to collaborate, saying, “Work together, from your recliners and c-suites and assembly lines and customer service consoles, to send aggressive messages about what’s wrong not just to each other, but to the dudes. The ones whose responsibility it is to step up, lean out, and lean in to the conversation we’ve been having amongst ourselves for far too long.”

We’re not all writers, actors, or entrepreneurs. Not all of us do work around leadership and gender or women’s rights. But neither of these things are the point. What’s noteworthy about these women’s careers and actions is not just their ability, but their willingness to embrace conflict or complexity and offer something new to the conversation. Making change is hard, but when we choose to act based on what we see in front of us or know within ourselves to be true from our own lived experience, we create new opportunities and possibilities.

Who makes your list of authentic leaders?

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