What is Authentic Leadership?

This is a summary of “Authentic Leadership Theory” that I published several months ago. The overall theme for this month is “Be Genuine,” and includes posts on being authentic and building credibility, and a review of Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which addresses vulnerability and transparency; therefore it only makes sense that I repost the description of authentic leadership!

Authentic Leadership is a recent model of leadership, according to research studies, and can be defined as leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values. (Northouse, 2013)  It seems to involve a life-long process of development, both in internal growth and in external relationships.

According to Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice, there are two basic prescriptive (or practical) models and one general descriptive (or theoretical) model:

1)      Robert Terry’s action-centered model focuses on “doing the right thing.” It incorporates an “authentic action wheel” with six spokes – meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, and existence – and a two-step process of action; step one is diagnosing the problem, and step two is determining the response to the problem.

2)      Bill George’s developmental model focuses on the development of authentic leadership qualities over a lifetime.  This model presents the learning and development of five necessary characteristics:  purpose, which comes from passion; values, which produce behaviors; relationships, which build connection; self-discipline, which causes consistency; and heart, which shows compassion.

3)      The theoretical model of Authentic Leadership is best expressed by Walumbwa, and by Luthans and Avolio.  In this model, three antecedent factors are identified:  the positive psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience; moral reasoning (which leads to ethical decision-making); and critical life events that shape and change leaders.  These are followed by four components of Authentic Leadership:  self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.

This model of leadership reflects someone with integrity and strong values, whose actions and behavior consistently represent those values.  This consistency between “walk and talk” results in a leader who is considered to be “real.”  Therefore, when I look at the definition and descriptions, it appears to me that Authentic Leadership should be an expectation of practice.  In other words, it makes sense that a good leader would be genuine, trustworthy, and consistent, and so it should be something that we would expect from any good leader.  I personally find it a little amusing that being genuine and trustworthy needs to be explicitly expressed as characteristics of a particular leadership style, because I find it hard to believe that anyone wants a leader who is artificial or deceitful.  Be who you really are, be transparent and genuine, be trustworthy; these are attributes which inspire trust, thereby increasing your effectiveness as a leader.  So, regardless of your leadership style, I am of the opinion that Authentic Leadership ought to be integrated into every leader’s practice.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *