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What is Authentic Leadership?

What is Authentic Leadership?

Over the past two decades, new leadership styles have emerged; the most recent of which being authentic leadership. We have evolved from the old-fashioned top-down dictatorial or transactional leadership styles to transformational and authentic leadership. The reason our leadership styles are transitioning or even upgrading is because of the changing approaches of our followers, societies, economies and work environments.

In 2008 researchers Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing and Peterson defined authentic leadership to be “A pattern that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balance processing of information and relational transparency on the part of the leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development.” (Reference Walumbwa, et al 2008).

The four components of authentic leadership

This is quite a mouthful, but if we look at the key words it is clear that authentic leadership is made up of four components, namely:

  1. Self-awareness: Reflection and understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, core values and emotions. The focus for the leader is about being aware of his/her own behaviour and actions. Self-mastery is important here.
  2. Internalised moral perspective: Using our internal moral standards to guide our behaviour and actions. The emphasis here is on making ethical decisions that benefit society.
  3. Balanced processing: The ability to analyse information objectively and to explore other people’s opinions and input before making a decision. The team has permission to question and challenge its values and standards that led to the leader’s decisions.
  4. Relational transparency: Being open, honest and transparent in presenting our true self to others. This is where the real difference of authentic leadership lies where the leader is allowed to bring his/her real self to the role.

What we see from authentic leadership is that the process of leading is co-created by both the leader and the follower. The authentic leader has strong ethical values and wants to build and nurture trusting relationships, acts from the heart/head and openly shares the purpose and vision with the followers. It is a fully encapsulated US leadership approach.

Because authentic leadership is still in its infant stage, concepts and practical approaches are not yet fully developed. In addition, the question of whether authentic leadership is sufficient to drive organisational goals and strategies remains unclear.

That being said, what I value most about authentic leadership is the fact that it is a lifelong learning process that endeavours to make ethically and morally “right” decisions for the good of employees, organisations and society.

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