“Authentic leadership is leading adaptively from your core, choosing who you’re most inspired to be to serve the greatest good in this moment.” – Henna Inam, Here is one of the best and most comprehensive ‘unpacking’ of what Authentic Leadership is all about. Thanks to cleverism.com
The modern corporate world is not without its examples of wrongdoing and creed-based behavior. Not all leaders are good and acknowledgement of this can often be the first step towards better leadership. In order to lead better, leaders and academics have turned to the idea of authentic leadership. A leadership model, which believes that genuine leadership that basis its decisions on values can guide people towards the greater good.
This guide will examine authentic leadership: the past and the present context. We’ll explore the core elements of the model and the characteristics that define authentic leaders. We’ll explain the benefits and the shortcomings of the theory, before providing you examples of leaders who’ve showcased authentic leadership.
Authentic leadership is a rather new theory, yet the core ideas of the leadership model can be traced back to Ancient Greece. In this section, we’ll explore the historical ideas behind the theory, before examining the modern theoretical approach to the leadership style and the implications of it being a young theory.
Authentic leadership is another concept with roots in Ancient Greek philosophy. Ancient Greek philosophers concurred authenticity to be an important state of being, as it emphasized being in control of your own destiny and who you truly are as a person. The word authentic comes from the Greek word, authentikos, which means principal or genuine. Authentic persons were true themselves and their surroundings.
Furthermore, authenticity was closely linked to the Ancient Greek model of cardinal virtues. To the Greeks, there were four key virtues to follow: prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. The virtues called the person to:
By developing these virtues, people were thought to improve their inner self and the relationships they had with other people. An authentic leader, therefore, needed the four virtues in order to lead in a just and good manner. To the Ancient Greeks, authentic leadership was moral and selfless to a degree.
Ancient Greek philosophers weren’t the last to explore the concept of authenticity. Throughout the human history, philosophers, musicians and artists have explored this concept. In the Western world, some of the most famous minds have talked about authenticity and authentic behavior. Descartes suggested authenticity is the following of your inner voice, which calls for responsible behavior. Identity was the thing that shaped Descartes’ individual morality and this identity came from external sources and social status. Authentic behavior was therefore often a natural existence, which was available for us all.
Yet, authentic leadership wasn’t part of the conversation of leadership theories until much later. In the 1960s, authentic leadership entered the discussion and its inclusion was mostly driven by the need to reflect on certain negative elements the rising corporate culture had brought about.
In the early stages of the theorizing, authenticity became attached as a reflection of organizations as well as individuals. An organization could start highlighting its authenticity by acting in a responsible manner, reacting to uncertainty and being creative. Authentic behavior moved away from the idea it’s only the individual leaders, who define authenticity within an organization.
Although the conversation around authenticity within the corporate culture began in the 1960s, it took a while before the concept was fully explored as a leadership model. Warren Bennis’ On Becoming a Leader explored certain elements of the authentic leadership model in 1989. The book has been re-printed several times since and in his latest introduction to the newest version in 2009, Bennis wrote, “Authentic leaders embrace those who speak valuable truths, however hard they are to hear”. He saw the problems of organizations often stemming from doing the opposite of that – hiding the truth, in order to avoid having to deal with problems. To Bennis, leaders were made and not born, suggesting that authentic leadership is at the grasp of everyone.
While Bennis’ original book did touch on the ideas of modern authentic leadership theory, the father of the idea is often considered Bill George, Harvard professor and CEO of Medtronic.
George published a book called Authentic Leadership in 2003 and later refined his ideas further in True North. George’s inspiration for writing the book had been the increasing negative corporate examples, such as Enron and Tyco. He wanted to restore people’s faith in corporations and show young leaders another way to lead. Peter Northouse’s 2007 book Leadership: Theory and Practice wrote about the scandals and their influence on leadership theories. According to Northouse,
“People feel apprehensive and insecure about what is going on around them, and as a result, they long for bona fide leadership they can trust and for leaders who are honest and good”.
In Authentic Leadership, George described authentic leaders as:
“People of the highest integrity, committed to building organizations…who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognize the importance of their service to society.”
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