With many forms of crisis rampant in society, many groups look to authentic leadership for guidance. Authentic leadership is a call for the authenticity or genuineness of the leader to be present in their direction. With three different ways to define authentic leadership – developmental, interpersonal, and intrapersonal– there are two methods of addressing and remedying lacking components of leadership through either practical or theoretical approaches. Through analyzing the factors of an individual’s leadership traits and comparing them to the goals of ideal authentic leadership, the leader is able to develop their own capabilities to lead a group.
As there are three ways to define authentic leadership, it is the developmental definition that is the most widely accepted. The developmental definition of authentic leadership is best explained by Avolio and Gardner (2005) as a type of leadership that is developed throughout a lifetime and can be triggered by strong life events, whether greatly positive or negative. Authentic leadership can also be viewed with the interpersonal perspective where authentic leadership is relational and focuses on the interactions between both leaders and followers (Eagly, 2005). The intrapersonal viewpoint is the narrowest perspective of authentic leadership as the definition focuses on the leader’s own self-concept, self-knowledge, and self-regulation (PSU WC, 2019, L. 12, p. 2). The developmental definition is the preferred definition as it exemplifies how ideal leadership can be gained rather than interpersonal or intrapersonal definitions of leadership as traits specific to an individual or the situation. Developmental authentic leadership takes into account the individual and their characteristics, their effectiveness leading a group, and the situation or the leader’s past life circumstances. In short, developmental offers a holistic view of the goals of authentic leadership.
Once authentic leadership is defined and the goal of ideal authenticity is set, the next step is to choose an approach, whether practical or theoretical, to get closer to the goal. The most developed practical approach includes the Authentic Leadership Approach. This approach is very similar to Terry’s (1993) Authentic Leadership Wheel and can even be understood as a more refined and specific version. As the Leadership Wheel focuses on 6 components of meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, and existence, each part must be fully functioning for the wheel to spin and fulfillment to occur. The Authentic Leadership Approach posited by George (2003) recreates the wheel with 5 dimensions, each dimension with its own inner level: purpose (inner passion), values (behavior), relationships (connectedness), self-discipline (consistency), and heart (compassion). The outer dimensions are observable outcomes while the inner characteristics in parenthesis are underlying qualities of the leader that may not be behaviorally observable (PSU WC, 2019, L. 12, p. 3). Each dimension and characteristic has its own spectrum in which the leader can hold any position. This approach aims to distinguish the most lacking component and reform the specific area of interest until the individual is higher on the spectrum and has “more of” the component’s capabilities. Contrasting to practical approaches, there is the Theoretical Approach that includes heavy analysis of leadership qualities and environmental impact. With Avolio (2003) explaining developmental leadership, the research on the Theoretical Approach is largely attributable to him. This approach focuses on two conditions central to authentic leadership: positive psychological capacities (confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience) and moral reasoning (PSU WC, 2019, L. 12, p. 4). Northouse (2016) explains the positive psychological capacities that stem from positive psychology research: confidence as self-efficacy and belief in task accomplishment, hope as the fuel for positive motivation, optimism as holding favorable expectations of the future, and resilience as the ability to recover from adverse situations. Moral reasoning is also described by Northouse (2016) as the ability to make ethical decisions. If these two conditions are met with high levels, the individual will be able to better face and recover from strong critical life events such as facing disaster or getting a huge job promotion. Their recovery then helps develop four components of great authentic leadership: self-awareness, relational transparency, internalized moral perspective, and balanced processing (Walumbwa et al., 2008). Self-awareness is a process where the leader can understand themselves, their abilities, and their effect on others, a key component of defining authentic leadership. Relational transparency is much like self-awareness, but instead refers to the observable projection of their internal characteristics, such as outwardly sharing the individual’s purpose with others. Internalized moral perspective is produced by self-regulation and being able to maintain consistency according to the individual’s values rather than be malleable towards outside forces. Balanced processing is another form of self-regulation in which the individual can objectively process new information or opinions. With the two antecedent conditions fulfilled along with the four components, true authentic leadership can then be realized.
Witnessing the development of authentic leadership can be seen in many leaders if observed long enough. With a restaurant manager of a high-end restaurant, Eli, beginning as a busser, his leadership qualities and capabilities were very low and nearly nonexistent. Since the beginning of his career, he was always optimistic and hopeful. His positive psychological capacities were already filled, but his moral reasoning was lacking. After a period of time, Eli found many of his friends facing medical problems and the restaurant undergoing health-safety concerns. This allowed his moral reasoning to grow and he was able to make better decisions and discern right from wrong, leading him to higher positions in the company. After his promotion to general manager, Eli had realized how drinking and drug abuse was affecting his own health and the productivity of the restaurant as a whole. This awareness to the issue fueled motivation towards further development of leadership skills to help himself and the business elevate to an even higher level. Without added distractions of drugs and alcohol, Eli became more passionate about his hobbies and work. He was then able to become more self-aware of his own motives, vision, and purpose. The realization of these factors allowed him to then share his vision to the rest of the staff and the owners with relational transparency. As he continued to face hard decisions and remained hopeful for a profitable future, Eli held his moral beliefs even more strongly with his refreshed perspective and swayed less to outside influences. This quickly snowballed into allowing him to discern the quality of sources of information to have more balanced processing. While the process had taken nearly a decade, Eli is now a great manager for the restaurant and a very liked person. He brings his genuineness and honesty to the workplace and can be seen as a very authentic leader and true-to-heart as opposed to a “fake” leader.
Authentic leadership can be analyzed by many perspectives, but it is best seen as a developmental process where the leader’s end goal is to be genuine and transparent in their emotions and motives. The theoretical approach is the best option for remedying any lacking components of authentic leadership and helps determine specific components that are less than favorable. With the definition and approach in combination, it is obvious that authentic leadership can be grown and honed for the best qualities of a leader to shine their brightest for the most effective influence over a group.
Avolio, B. J., & Gardner, W. L., (2005). Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 16, 315-338.
Eagly, A. H. (2005). Achieving relational authenticity in leadership: Does gender matter? Leadership Quarterly, 16, 459-474.
George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 12: Authentic Leadership. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su19/2195min-5376/content/12_lesson/printlesson.html
Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L, Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126.