What exactly is authentic leadership and is it possible for a good leader not to also be authentic? First, we need to understand the definition of what authentic leadership is. It is difficult to simple define so we will break it into three areas: intrapersonal, interpersonal and developmental perspective. The intrapersonal perspective focuses on a leader’s individual experiences and “emphasizes a leader’s life experiences and the meaning he or she attaches to those experiences as being critical to the development of the authentic leader” (Northouse, 2016 p.196). The interpersonal perspective examines the relationship between a leader and their followers and “authenticity emerges from the interactions between leaders and followers. It is a reciprocal process because leaders affect followers and followers affect leaders” (Northouse, 2016 p.196). The developmental perspective focuses on the development of these other two perspectives to create an authentic leader over time. It is not something a person has in the beginning, but could be “a pattern of leader behavior that develops from and is grounded in the leader’s positive psychological qualities and strong ethics” (Northouse, 2016 p.196).
Bill George’s take on authentic leadership states “we need leaders who lead with purpose, values, and integrity; leaders who build enduring organizations, motivate their employees to provide superior customer service, and create long-term value for shareholders” (George, 2003 p.09). Values, purpose and integrity are attributes that are learned from life lessons. I work with other leaders that do not display purpose in their work and do not motivate others. I am the son of a Methodist minister who I watch and admired as I grew up. He did much more than stand in front of a congregation and speak for an hour a week. He counseled, comforted and made a difference to those he served. These are life events that have affected me in a positive way. I have spent years in the retail industry and understand that customer service is what drive sales and that happy customers come back. I watch and learned from how he handled conflict and realize that staying open and positive can help resolve an issue better than just standing my ground.
So, the real question is how to become an authentic leader. Just because we may possess attributes that make us good leaders, and have good relationships with our peers and followers, how do we walk the path towards authenticity. In my opinion, the first step in the journey is trust. In every leadership idea, there is the word trust. To become a good leader, you must earn trust of those you work for and those that work for you. This building block leads to collaboration and teamwork, which ultimately leads to better performance and productivity. To gain ones trust it is important to be one’s self and to have an identity that others can relate to. To earn trust, you must do what you say and be honest and forthcoming with others. It is important be as transparent as possible or as the theory states, be an authentic person.
What are the pitfalls of being authentic? It is important to be true to yourself but, “As we strive to improve our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass that helps us navigate choices and progress toward our goals. But when we’re looking to change our game, a too rigid self-concept becomes an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth”. (Ibarra, 2015). In making values-based choices it is important to grow with your position within the organization. As I get deeper into leading a team, the day to day activities are different. I do not need as much detail and have learned to delegate tasks to those that are just as capable to perform them. Being an authentic leader is serving those in our charge and giving them the tools and motivation to move forward. It is also important to learn how to manage upward. Trust also runs uphill and it can be gained by having the confidence to speak out with a good idea and concept. “True-to-selfers find it particularly hard to sell themselves to senior management when they most need to do so: when they are still unproven. Research shows, however, that this hesitancy disappears as people gain experience and become more certain of the value they bring” (Ibarra, 2015). The more experience of participating in the broader conversation helps to reinforce leadership that is authentic.
It can be a long journey to authentic leadership, but the key is understanding what it is and remembering the actions and interactions with others to get there. Leaders should be looking at how the can improve themselves every day in how they build trust, manage upwards and in the small conversations with followers and peers alike. Authentic leadership is all about the positive connections and conversations that lead others to see you as an authentic leader
Northouse, Peter G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
George, W. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco7 Jossey-Bass.
Ibarra, H. (2017, July 18). The Authenticity Paradox. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox