Friday, 10 February 2017

Authentic leadership has become trendy

Authentic leadership is owning one’s personal experiences” and acting “in accord with the true self, expressing oneself in ways that are consistent with inner thoughts and feelings” (Harter, 2002, p. 382, cited in Avolio & Gardner, 2005).

Avolio et al nailed it when they said that authentic leaders are those who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspectives, knowledge, and strengths; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and of high moral character” (Avolio, Gardner et al., 2004 as cited in Avolio & Gardner, 2005).

What is now taken in management-speak to be 'authentic' leadership is not what Avolio and Gardner talk about. 

Popular media suggests that 'authentic' leadership is this something that all of us can achieve - or that we should all aspire to. However, authentic leadership is more trait theory than developmental theory. Maybe 5% of our population have the authentic capacity to lead this way. 

I read two articles last year where writers who are usually pretty smart were were banging on about how all of us can learn to lead 'authentically'. This is not authentic leadership: it is PR. Buzzwords. Convenient. A fast fix.

Oops: and one that doesn't work.

For example, Herminia Ibarra wrote an article about leaders who tried to be vulnerable and open with their people - thinking this was authentic - and so got shot down or undermined. While her article focused on authentic leadership not being a panacea for all leadership problems, she missed the point that the people who were being taught this style of leading were not actually authentic leaders themselves. That they were being taught to be inauthentic authentic leaders. 

Hermina goes on to say that authenticity is about one “true self”. Nazomi Morgan entitled her piece "Authentic Leadership Means Being Real". When people read these pieces, they assume authentic leadership is about 'truth'.  

This is not what authentic leadership is. From what I have quoted above, we know that authentic leadership is a particular leadership style where leaders are socially aware, high-functioning optimistic people who actions, thoughts and words are invariably consistent.

So just remember: authentic leadership is a style confined to those who (a) demonstrate and (b) work on those traits mentioned.

We can learn to be more authentic, but if we don't have authentic leadership traits, we can't be an authentic leader. We would be foolish to try to stick this style on like a band aid, because our future thoughts, words, and actions will not be consistent. We will undermine ourselves.

We would be better to be true to ourselves and NOT try to be an authentic leader, but be a participative leader, or a facilitative leader, or an autocratic leader... whatever our natural style is, as well-developed and functioning as we can make it.

Otherwise we get the whole silk purse, sow's ear thing happening...



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