Nobody’s perfect. Even when you’re a leader. Even when you’re the boss. Authenticity in leadership is absolutely essential. Mistakes happen; how you handle them may define your leadership.

Let’s get philosophical about this for a second. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said there is no such thing as authenticity for human beings. The best it gets, to Heidegger’s reckoning, is being authentic about your inauthenticity. That’s a troubling concept when you consider that numerous practitioners and teachers of effective leadership have said that being authentic about yourself is a key practice of highly effective leaders.

Accountability Among Leaders

So, what’s a leader to do? No one expects the workplace to turn into a confessional, but leaders should still be accountable. That’s something that many leaders don’t want to do.

They don’t want to admit that sometimes they overreact to problems or forget about important events or get jealous about the credit being given to another leader. They think admitting these things will hurt their credibility. But, in our experience, the opposite is true.

Because strengths and weaknesses are part of humanity, when leaders show their weaknesses, it makes the strengths seem all that more vivid. Plus, showing vulnerability is, in itself, a demonstration of strength. Leaders who can admit to a bit of weakness are confident in, and not inauthentic about, their authority and the respect they can command.

So how do you make these admissions? Either with humor — by telling a joke on yourself — or just with simple honesty. But there’s a fine line here. Mock yourself too much or tear yourself down too often, and you’ll be right back to being inauthentic.

Acknowledging mistakes can convey a message — the message that nobody, including the boss, is perfect — but it cannot be a stand-up comedy routine, done just for laughs or as a gimmick for the boss to try and make himself look like one of the guys. If it’s not from the heart, it won’t be seen as authentic.

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