Authentic leadership is a balancing act.

Authentic leaders must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people. They must make judgments about their people and make certain that they are giving their people the best chance to succeed.

It’s a balancing act because authentic leaders can’t afford to be judgmental while making the judgments required to help their people succeed. Authentic leaders know better than to apply their own life’s circumstances and values to the situations and decisions of their people. Authentic leaders accept most everything at face value.

Authentic leaders know that judging a person does more to define themselves than it does the person they judge. They also know that every person is in some way unique and gifted. Authentic leaders invest the time to discover what those gifts are and find a way to put them to use.

Authentic leaders are realists and they are fair. There will always be a person or persons who a leader “prefers” working with, but that preference shouldn’t mean “extra” benefits or opportunities for that “preferred” person. Rules and policies apply equally or they don’t really apply at all.

Most of all, leaders should never pigeonhole their people. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “pigeonhole,” it means to decide that someone or something belongs to a particular type or group, especially without knowing that much about them.

This is where authentic leaders really separate themselves from the more common leader: They know their people. They know what motivates them, they know their challenges and goals. They see their people as PEOPLE and not merely a resource to be allocated.

They invest the time every day — yes, every day — to understand them as people. They work to understand their environment, backgrounds, past successes and failures. They can make judgments without being judgmental because they know where their people are coming from.

If you’re a leader who believes (accurately) that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people, then don’t judge what you don’t know. If you’re a leader who believes that your organization’s greatest asset is its people, then invest your time with your greatest asset.

People want to matter and when they know that they matter to you, then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.