Transgender Leaders and Authenticity

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders who are perceived to be authentic are often more effective leaders.
  • However, transgender people may be seen by others as less authentic.
  • Organizations should create cultures that embrace gender minorities in order to support transgender leaders.

On January 25, 2021, President Biden lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.  This was an important step not just in ensuring equal treatment for all Americans but also on giving transgender people a chance to serve in our country’s armed forces.

As someone interested in leadership, this naturally got me to thinking about the implications of transgender leaders who could now serve in the military.  What might their experiences be?

When thinking about transgender people who are leaders, I think about the implications for authenticity. Authentic leadership is an area studied extensively by researchers and practitioners alike; at its core, this suggests that leaders who are transparent, honest and open with followers are better leaders in many ways. A study by Tuan Trong Luu (2020) examined this[1].

Luu’s study examined pharmaceutical salespeople and the effect authentic leadership had on followers. Leaders who were authentic had positive effects in two ways:

  1. Performance: when leaders were perceived to be authentic, the followers performed better (specifically, sales recovery performance). 
  2. Helping Behaviors: when leaders were perceived to be authentic, the followers went above and beyond their required job tasks to help the customers more.

Performance and helping behaviors sound great, right?  The only slight issue is the word “perceived” — notice I wrote it above.  What one person might perceive as “authentic” might not be perceived by others to be authentic. 

Normally, this might not be a huge issue.  However, for transgender leaders, it could be.  Leigh E. Fine (2017) recently wrote about this[2].  Specifically, she suggested that transgender individuals may be demonstrating and showing the world their authentic self by being open about their gender orientation.  However, others may actually perceive this as less authentic because of old-fashioned expectations about gender and gender roles.

This suggests that transgender leaders who perceive themselves to be more authentic may be perceived as less authentic by their followers — and therefore they may be less effective!

What can be done about this? 

As transgender employees become more and more open about who they truly are in the workplace, stigma against them will begin to fade. Less stigma against transgender people will result in more perceiving them to be authentic — which will help them as leaders.

But in the meantime, organizations can help normalize transgender employees by creating environments that are welcoming, accepting and comforting to gender minorities (and indeed, all minorities!). 

Ensure that all policies are trans-friendly. Include transgender issues in all diversity and inclusion trainings and discussions.  And most importantly, be sure that all succession planning and leadership pipelines include any qualified transgender employees. 

Plant the seeds now to ensure equality in the future!


[1] Luu, T. T. (2020). Linking authentic leadership to salespeople’s service performance: The roles of job crafting and human resource flexibility. Industrial Marketing Management, 84, 89–104.

[2] Fine, L. E. (2017). Gender and sexual minorities’ practice and embodiment of authentic leadership: Challenges and opportunities. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 19(4), 378–392.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.