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Authentic leadership

  • Authentic leadership focuses on transparent and ethical leader behaviour and encourages open sharing of information needed to make decisions while accepting followers' inputs (Avolio, et al., 2009).

Broad interest in authentic leadership was prompted by the release of Bill George's Authentic Leadership in 2003. For George ‘authentic leadership results from knowing yourself - your strengths and weaknesses – by understanding your unique life story and the crucibles you have experienced’ (George, 2012, p. 313). While various definitions of authentic leadership have been developed, Avolio, et al, suggest there is general agreement that the following are key components of authentic leadership:

  • Balanced processing—that is, ‘objectively analysing relevant data before making a decision’.
  • Internalized moral perspective— that is, ‘being guided by internal moral standards, which are used to self-regulate one's behaviour’.
  • Relational transparency—that is, ‘presenting one's authentic self through openly sharing information and feelings as appropriate for situations’.
  • Self-awareness—that is, a ‘demonstrated understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses, and the way one makes sense of the world’ (2009).

Criticisms and challenges

As a relatively recent addition to leadership's theoretical landscape, significant criticisms of authentic leadership have not yet arisen. Proponents of authentic leadership do agree that additional work on defining and measuring authentic leadership is necessary. To discover whether authentic leadership is a foundation for good leadership, researchers suggest there is a need to ‘to examine how authentic leadership is viewed across situations and cultures’ (Avolio, et al., 2009, p. 424).

Further reading

Bruce Avolio, Fred Walumbwa & Todd Weber, (2009). ‘Leadership: Current Theories, Research and Future Directions’ in Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 60.

Bill George, (2003). Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018