Authentic Leadership Defined
While appearing to be relatively simple to define, authentic leadership is actually quite complex. Scholars vary in their description, each from a different perspective and emphasis of importance. The following will illustrate three viewpoints thought to represent the definition of this theory. The first is interpersonal, the second is intrapersonal, and the third is developmental (Northouse, 2016 as cited in Chan, 2005). As this theory gains credibility, the definition may require some alteration to further enhance the understanding.
When we attempt to define authentic leadership in an interpersonal manner we are claiming that authentic leadership is a two-way process that takes into account both the leader’s actions and the follower’s responses (Pennsylvania State University, 2015). Authentic leadership, according to this perspective, emerges from high-quality relations between leaders and followers (Pennsylvania State University, 2015). This implies a team-effort approach by both involved parties.
The intrapersonal approach, on the other hand, is an attempt to describe the qualities of an authentic leader. Such an approach declares that an authentic leader is genuine, does not attempt to hide his/her true self, is self-aware, and can regulate his/her actions and emotions (Pennsylvania State University, 2015). This type of leader "leads from conviction" (Northouse, 2016). There is an emphasis placed on the leader's life experiences and how that person attaches meaning to those events as being critical in their development. (Northouse, 2016)
The final way of defining authentic leadership is via the developmental approach which suggests that authenticity can be learned and developed via the experience of major life events such as critical illness, tragedy, or new career paths (Pennsylvania State University, 2015). As the name suggests, the developmental approach grows throughout the lifetime of the leader with the foundation in positive psychological qualities and strong ethics (Northouse, 2016). This perspective is something that can be "nurtured in a leader, rather than a fixed trait." (Northouse, 2016)
The Presence of Authenticity in a Leader
The appearance of authenticity includes qualities such as genuineness, empathy, respect, trustworthiness, reliability, and believability (Waite, McKinney, Smith-Glasgow, Meloy, 2014). Authentic leader are typically perceived as being naturally open, hopeful, optimistic, and resilient; exhibits warmth and relationship-centered principles; and is an inspiration in respected professional and personal environments (Murphy, 2012). Leaders who model fairness, execute justice for others and include their convictions of the heart can be received as authentic leaders. Evidence of a leader's trustworthiness and authenticity can be observed through the leader's non-verbal communication such as body language and emotional responses (Ladkin & Taylor, 2010 as cited by Waite et al, 2014).
Approaches to Authentic Leadership
There are two approaches to Authentic Leadership: practical and theoretical. The practical approach is centered on real situations and describes how to approach authentic leadership. The theoretical approach is the result of research in the social sciences. (Northouse, 2016.)
The Practical Approaches
Authentic Leadership Wheel (Terry, 1993)
This practical approach to authentic leadership developed by Bob Terry is a diagnostic tool that an organization can use to determine its weaknesses and subsequently to mitigate them. A wheel comprised of six segments (representing: meaning, mission, power, structure, resources and existence) is used to determine if all six of the elements are present. At the center of the circle is fulfillment, which is only attained with the presence of all six elements. This is an indication that the conditions exist for authentic leadership to occur. If one or more of these elements is missing, the circle is damaged, leaving fulfillment impossible, and hence, authentic leadership unattainable (Pennsylvania State University, 2015).
Terry's Authentic Leadership Wheel
Authentic Leadership Approach (George, 2003)
This practical approach, developed by Bill George a decade after Terry's approach, also employs a similarly segmented wheel-shaped tool. However, the sections of Bill George’s wheel represent opportunities for an individual to develop, which is in contrast to Terry’s problem-oriented organizational deficiencies. George preferred to think of each section of his wheel as a “developmental continuum” or opportunity that a leader could work on and improve over time, as opposed to an element that is either present or absent as Terry asserted. Unlike Terry, George views the dimensions as "less of" or "more of", allowing the leader to improve each dimension. Furthermore, George's approach does not require all dimensions to be present before the conditions are met for authentic leadership to occur. (Pennsylvania State University, 2015.)
Each dimension (inner segment) has a matching characteristic (outer segment), with purpose being the key dimension. See the figure at right:
The characteristics depicted in the outer ring in George's wheel are observable outcomes and the dimensions, shown in the inner wheel, are "underlying, unobservable qualities". The dimensions and characteristics can be thought of similarly to traits and behaviors. (Pennsylvania State University, 2015).
George's Authentic Leadership Developmental Continuum
The Theoretical Approach
Although still in its initial stages of development, an authentic leadership model is now becoming increasingly studied in the social science literature. The study of leadership is nothing new, however, authentic leadership is considered more recent with the first article published in 2003. Authentic leadership has more recently been explored due to societal disorder in major corporate scandals such as WorldCom, Enron, and failures in the banking industry. Early literature on authentic leadership lacked the theoretical framework necessary to define and explain the theory as a process. The difficulty has been translating what makes a trusted and centered leader into a scientific study of characteristics and effects or a model that can be applied to a variety of situations (Northouse, 2016).
Walumbwa and associates (2008) extracted information from reviewing literature and interviewing content experts to arrive at a theoretical model of authentic leadership that is empirically based and supported (Northouse, 2016). This model ultimately assumes that authentic leadership has four elements which establish the groundwork of the theory. These elements are:
- Internalized moral perspective
- Balanced processing
- Relational transparency
When these elements are present in a given leader they are more likely to enhance the leader’s perceived authenticity (Northouse, 2016).
Self-awareness is a process by which a leader comes to recognize who he/she is in terms of morals, motivations, feelings, goals, the strengths and weaknesses of their character, and who they are and what they stand for (Northouse, 2016). When leaders are self-aware and have a clear understanding of themselves, they are more likely to stand by their decisions; this ultimately enhances follower's willingness to support their leader's decisions and commit to them (Northouse, 2016).
Internalized Moral Perspective
When leaders do what is right versus what is best, they are more likely to be perceived as authentic. For this reason, leaders who have an internalized moral perspective that directs their actions are less likely to allow other individuals to influence them and are most likely to act in accordance with their own beliefs, morals, ethics, principles, and values, demonstrating reliability, and authenticity (Northouse, 2016).
Objectivity and openness to others’ ideas are the major highlights of balanced processing. That is, in order for leaders to be authentic, it is important that they suspend their subjectivity and objectively seek and evaluate others’ opinions and perspectives in order to arrive at the best decision. When this occurs, followers will trust that decisions made are unbiased and made more fairly (Northouse, 2016).
Revealing one’s self to others in a true manner contributes to one’s authenticity. Hence, it is important that leaders are not just honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses, but that they are also honest with their followers. This is achieved when leaders engage in open communication sharing their core feelings, motives, and inclinations (Northouse, 2016).
Trust is an essential in leadership. Being trusted by management, peers and followers, is one of the strongest compliments and assets a leader can have, which helps to make the company, and organization stronger as a whole.
How the Theory Works
|Strong points of authentic leadership theory are:||Criticisms of authentic leadership theory include:|
Biography of Bill George
Bill George is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he has taught leadership since 2004. He is the author of four best-selling books: 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, True North, Finding Your True North, and Authentic Leadership. With co-author Doug Baker, he recently published True North Groups.
Mr. George is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic. He joined Medtronic in 1989 as president and chief operating officer, was the chief executive officer from 1991-2001, and board chair from 1996-2002. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive with Honeywell and Litton Industries and served in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mr. George currently serves as director of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic and also served on the board of Novartis and Target Corporation. He is currently a trustee of the World Economic Forum USA and Guthrie Theater and a former Trustee of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has served as board chair for Allina Health System, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, United Way of the Greater Twin Cities, and Advamed.
He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012. He has been named one of "Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years" by PBS; "Executive of the Year-2001" by the Academy of Management; and "Director of the Year-2001-02" by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Mr. George has made frequent appearances on television and radio and his articles have appeared in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and numerous publications.
Mr. George received his BSIE with high honors from Georgia Tech, his MBA with high distinction from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar, and honorary PhDs from Georgia Tech, Bryant University, and University of St. Thomas. During 2002-03, he was a professor at IMD International and Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, and executive-in-residence at Yale School of Management.
Video: Bill George's Experience
Chan, A. (2005). Authentic leadership measurement and development: Challenges and suggestions. In W.L. Gardner, B.J. Avolio, & F.O. Walumbwa (Eds.), Authentic leadership theory and practice: Origins, effects, and development (pp. 227-251). Oxford: Elsevier Science.
Ladkin, D., & Taylor, S. (2010). Enacting the true self: Towards a theory of embodied authentic leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 21(1) 64-74.
Murphy, L. (2012). Becoming and remaining an authentic nurse leader. Journal of Nursing Administration, 42(11), 507-512.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
Onorato, M., Zhu, J. (2014). An empirical study on the relationships between authentic leadership and organizational trust by industry segment. Advanced Management Journal, 79(1), 26-39.
Pennsylvania State University (2015). Lesson 12: Authentic Leadership. Retrieved from https://cms.psu.edu/section/default.asp?id=201415S1WD%5F%5F%5FRPSY%5F%5F532%5F002
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.
Walumbwa, F., Luthans, F., Avey, J.B., and Oke, A. (2011). Authentically leading groups: The mediating role of collective psychological capital and trust. Journal of Management, 32, 4-24.
Wang, H., Sui, Y., Luthans, F., Wang,D., and Wu, Y. (2012). Impact of authentic leadership on performance: Role of followers' positive psychological capital and relational processes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(1), 5-21.
Waite, R., McKinney, N., Smith-Glasgow, M., & Meloy, F. (2014). The embodiment of authentic leadership. Journal of Professional Nursing, 30(4), 282-291.
Fig.1. Authentic Leadership
Fig.7. Self Awareness
Fig.9. Balance Process
Fig.10. Relational Theory
Fig.12. How the Theory Works
Good Leaders are Authentic Leaders [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://youtu.be/re6FdlVZlfzg