Authentic Leadership is a new field in leadership study. It is concerned with whether is leader is “genuine or real.” Whether in their boss, their investment banker or their President, people want to be able to trust their leaders. They want to feel sure that their leaders won’t lie to them and are generally good. (Northouse 2010) Northouse states that there is still some discussion about what actually makes an authentic leader. However, he says that there are three lenses through which to view authentic leaders: intrapersonal, developmental, and interpersonal. (2010)
Using the intrapersonal lens, authentic leadership “focuses closely on the leader and what goes within the leader. It incorporates the leader’s self-knowledge, self-regulation, and self-concept.” Shamir and Eilam argue that authentic leaders demonstrate genuine leadership, “lead from conviction, and are originals, not copies.” (Shamir & Eilam, 2005; as stated in Northouse, 2010, p.206)) This type of leader must is formed from his background experiences, his life story, and upbringing, and how the leader feels and what he thinks about those times and experiences. Followers are important as well. They reaffirm the leader if they trust, believe, and recognize him.
Authentic leadership can also be viewed through the developmental perspective. Form this view, leadership is developed and nurtured as the leader matures. Sometimes, it takes years to develop. It can also be brought on by major events. (Northouse 2010) For example, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had a chance for greatness, and a chance for authentic leadership thrust upon him. Walumba et al. described authentic leadership as a “pattern of behavior that develops from and is grounded in a leader’s positive psychological qualities and strong ethics.” (2008; As cited in Northouse 2010, p. 207) Leadership is made up of four traits: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency. Leaders develop these traits over a lifetime.
Still another way to view authentic leadership is through the lens of interpersonal perspective. The interpersonal view focuses on leadership that is relational. Therefore, followers are very important. After the leader acts, the followers must respond. The reciprocal interaction is important for leaders to “obtain buy in” from their followers. Leaders create loyalty and promote change when they listen to their followers and adapt their message. (Northouse 2010)
Northouse suggest three authentic leaders for further study. Sally Helgesen, from Case Study 10.01, was from a small Midwestern town. She wanted more, took a chance and moved to New York. She worked as an assistant to a columnist, but freelanced as a writer. Sally was self aware. She felt that there was a dichotomy within her “part quiet scholar, part footloose dreamer.” (p.225) According to Northouse self-awareness refers to the personal insights of the leader. (2010) Like Sally did, leaders try to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They also focus on thinking about core values, identity, emotions, motives, and goals, and coming to grips with who you are at the deepest level. (Northouse 2010) After Sally focuses on who she really was, and what she really wanted, she had the courage to roll the dice and take a writing job in Texas. She learned how to adapt, thinking of herself as an “outsider looking in.” After another book and more fame, Sally learned to be true to herself and present herself honestly to her audiences.
Greg Mortenson, from Case Study 10.2, was a leader who had greatness thrust upon him. You would think that being lost atop the world’s second-highest mountain gave him that chance. But it actually happened days earlier, when he gave up his dream of reaching the top and decided to honor his sister’s memory in a different way by aiding a critically wounded climber that this chance occurred. After becoming lost and disoriented, Greg stumbled into Pakistan. Although he could have been considered an enemy, he was considered a friend. A former trauma nurse, Greg began to offer his expertise to the village, but after seeing the poverty longed to do more. Greg asked for donations to build a school for the village, and barely got a response. He sold everything he owned. Still that wasn’t enough. Even after earning the money, he was met with even more obstacles. He was swindled by a shady businessman, and threatened by a rival tribal leader. One of the leaders sensed Greg’s frustration and took him literally to the mountaintop. The most important thing Greg learned that made him a great leader was that, “Building relationships is as important as being projects…I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.” Greg engaged in relational transparency, “being open and presenting his true self to others.” Greg “shared his core feelings, motives, and inclinations.” He showed both negative and positive aspects. (Northouse 2010) By communicating openly, Greg built real relationships with others and 78 schools.
Betty Ford (Case Study 10.3) called the day her husband was sworn in, the “saddest day” of her life. Betty had been many things, a former professional dancer, a former teacher, a mother and a wife to a senator. She was looking forward to retiring from Washington, not moving into the Whitehouse. From her first days as First Lady, she was known for her “openness and candor.” Betty listened to the wants and needs of the average American woman; she startled many when she spoke in support of abortion, women’s roles in politics, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Betty utilized internalized moral perspective” whereby individuals use their moral standards and values to guide their behavior rather than outside pressures to control them.” (Northouse 2010) Betty was soon diagnosed with breast cancer. She could have insisted her husband resign and focus on taking care of her; she could have hidden her disease and sought treatment privately. Instead Newsweek turned a private family matter into a national conversation. Betty allowed the publication to print accounts of her surgery and treatments (including a radical mastectomy.) This raised awareness for cancer screenings and showed empathy to other breast cancer sufferers. Betty went through many other public trials: an interview with 60 minutes that caused her popularity to dwindle, losing the re-election campaign, overcoming her addictions to alcoholism and painkillers. Betty went through her battles with grace, eventually opening the Betty Ford Center.
All three authentic leaders handled themselves with aplomb. They used balanced processing, analyzing information objectively, exploring other opinions before making decisions. They were open about their own perspectives. They inspire their followers to act with courage to take the leadership steps for themselves.
Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, p. 205-234