Authentic leadership is one of the least researched theories in leadership, but one of the most intuitive and attractive theories to those studying the field. After years of watching immoral and unethical leaders like Kenneth Lay of Enron run companies and consumers’ money into the ground, people wanted more from a leader. They wanted a leader with a moral compass and a leader that they could unabashedly believe in to follow and invest in. This explains the surge in authentic leadership and the need for the theory to be studied further.
Authentic leadership finds ties with transformational leadership and begins is base in a strong moral ground and ethical purity. Authentic leadership can be evaluated from either a practical approach or a theoretical approach (Northouse, 2015, pg. 196). Bill George defines the practical approach which focuses on the characteristics that define authentic leaders (Purpose, values, relationships, and self-discipline) (Northouse, 2015, pg. 197). George’s practical approach will be the focus for this post. George’s theory defines an authentic leader as someone with a sense of purpose who is inspired and motivated to reach their goals (Northouse, 2015, pg. 197). Authentic leaders also have their own set of values that they refuse to deviate from and have a strong moral compass that they abide by (Northouse, 2015, pg. 198). Authentic leaders also have strong relationships and connections with those around them through mutual disclosure to develop trust (Northouse, 2015, pg. 199). Finally, George states that an authentic leader must have self-discipline that allows them to reach their goals and hold all around them accountable (Northouse, 2015, pg. 199).
There are several authentic leaders through the world that can be discussed, but when I think of authentic leadership, Warren Buffett is the first that comes to mind. Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and is worth billions of dollars. Buffett is also a noted philanthropist who has pledged to give away a vast majority of his fortune to charities and philanthropic causes. Buffett follows the four characteristics described by George perfectly and epitomizes authentic leadership. First, he has a purpose and is intrinsically motivated. Buffett tends to invest in stocks and companies that others view as “junk” but Buffett sees value and knows his purposed in the market with these companies (Windust, 2017). He also believes in his purpose as a philanthropist and has donated millions and encouraged other billionaires to do the same.
Buffett also has a standard of values that he guards passionately. He has a fervor for conducting business in an ethical manner and is quick to get rid of anyone in his company that will not hold the same set of standards and values. Northouse states, “When tested in difficult situations, authentic leaders do not compromise their values, but rather use those situations to strengthen their values” (2015, pg. 199). Even in the 2008 financial crisis, Buffett did not back down from his beliefs and ethical values and chose to weather the storm under his own ethical terms (Windust, 2017).
Buffett is known for his self-discipline and hard work over the years. With now plans to retire any time soon, Buffett has a reputation for early morning rises and late nights devoted to his work. Even though is one of the richest men in the world, he still lives in the same house that he purchased in 1958 for $32,500 (Windust, 2017). If that isn’t self-discipline and motivation, I’m not sure what is. Finally, Buffett embodies both relationships and heart in his dealings with his employees and multiple charities he works with. Since 200, Buffett has given away 71% of his $65.5 billion fortune (Frank, 2017). Buffett believes in relationship building with the people around him and maintaining a compassion so strong for the world that he wishes to give away most of his fortune to help others.
Though Authentic leadership is still a developing theory, it is one of the most intriguing leadership theories at the moment. It truly deals in the emotions of the follower and their need for a true and ethical leader in the wake of several disasters. Though it lacks a vast amount of data and lacks descriptions of several of its prescriptions, even in its infancy, the theory is applicable at all levels of leadership (Northouse, 2015, pg. 207).
Frank, R. (2017, September 21). Warren Buffett is the most charitable billionaire. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/21/warren-buffet-is-the-most-charitable-billionaire.html
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Introduction to leadership. concepts and practice. Los Angeles: Sage.
Windust, J. (2017, April 27). Warren Buffett – Not your average billionaire. Retrieved from https://www.cognology.com.au/warren-buffett/