Author:Covelli, Bonnie J.


Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is attributed for the maxim "know you." This sentiment appeared more than 2,000 years later in English playwright William Shakespeare's Hamlet with the use of the aphorism "to thine own self be true." Today, more than 2,400 years after Socrates emphasized the importance of self-awareness, researchers and practitioners posit that self-awareness, self-regulation and authenticity are critical aspects of leadership.

Leadership, however, in modern day international organizations is often lacking and corruption is well documented with institutions vying for resources, fame, enrollment, cheating, fake programming and more (Mohamedbhai, 2015). These scandals that have taken place both domestically and abroad over the past decade have resulted in the need for an ethical approach to leadership. Indeed, these incidents have motivated academics and business leaders to reexamine existing leadership practices and to set forth leadership models in which leaders act genuinely, morally and inspire their followers to do the same. The issue is not unique to a specific organization as evidenced by corporate bailouts, blatant abuses of power on the part of executives, false accounting practices and fraud. These unethical practices have generated public outrage and led to the support of the contention of some, including Richard Edelman, CEO of public relations firm Edelman that we are "clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership" at this time in history (Bush, 2013).

Unethical behaviors likely took place throughout other periods in history. Unlike the past however, our current society makes information regarding scandals (and any other subject imaginable) easily accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time in the world due to the reach of the internet and twenty-four-hour television news cycles and social media. Therefore, it might not be that leaders (and people in general) are more corrupt and engage in unethical management practices at a rate higher than ever before, but rather there is a greater awareness about administrative and executive malfeasance because scandals are much more widely publicized than in the past.

A recent Gallup poll found that 62% of Americans believe there is widespread corporate corruption (Feldman, 2012) and 75% believe there is widespread government corruption (Gallup, 2015). Lewis (2014) and others are indicating that the public is losing trust in organizations and leaders. This mistrust creates an environment for development of a new model of leadership that fosters ethical behaviors. Organizations can address this crisis through purposeful professional development programs that teach from the ethical, moral and authentic grounding of leadership with integrity.


Authentic Leadership Theory

As mentioned, the construct of personal authenticity was initially credited with ancient Greek philosophers, who stressed the importance of knowing and being true to one's self (Tibbs, Green, Gergen & Montoya, 2016). More than 2,400 years later, Chester Barnard in his 1938 The Functions of the Executive, made the first reference to authenticity in management and organizational literature (Kliuchnikov, 2011). Barnard (1938) (as cited in Kliuchnikov, 2011) postulated that the authentic capacity of a leader should be used as a measure of executive quality.

Bill George (2007) popularized authentic leadership in management studies and popular culture by reflecting on his success in the business world spanning 30 years with his publications, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value and True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, published in 2003 and 2007 respectively. According to George (2010), the five dimensions of authentic leadership include: passion, values, relationships, self-discipline and heart. Authentic leaders embody the following characteristics: 1) understanding their purpose, 2) practicing solid values, 3) establishing connected relationships, 4) demonstrating self-discipline and 5) leading with heart (George, 2010). Rather than completing these characteristics in a sequential process, authentic leaders develop these qualities over the course of their lifetime because authentic leaders are not born that way (George, 2010).

George (2010) believed that authentic leaders lead with their hearts and learn from their own and other people's experiences but strive to be authentic with their values and convictions. A central tenet of George's (2010) authentic leadership model is the importance of the leader's life story in his or her development. George, Sims, McLean & Mayer (2007), in a study of more than 125 leaders of various ages, racial/ethnic and religious backgrounds, found that there were no universal traits, styles, or skills of successful, authentic leaders. Rather, in this study, the authors found that for respondents, being authentic to their personal life story made them more effective as leaders. Furthermore, George (2010) asserts that the authenticity of the leader, rather than his or her style, is most important.

Around the same time that George (2003) released his first book; the authentic leadership construct was introduced to academic literature. These early works were initially built upon the writings on transformational leadership that suggested there are pseudo versus authentic transformational leaders (Avolio, 2010). This suggests that leaders can be more or less authentic and simultaneously possess characteristics of transformational leadership (Avolio, 2010).

Authentic leadership is a multi-dimensional leadership theory and therefore has similarities to transformational theory and several other leadership theories including ethical, charismatic, spiritual and servant leadership. Conceptually, there are numerous similarities between servant, ethical, charismatic and authentic leadership. Servant leaders strive to serve first by putting the goals and needs of others before their own and then lead (Senjaya & Sarros, 2010). Transformational, servant and authentic leadership all share a moral component (Northouse, 2013). The primary difference between these, however, is that servant leaders' primary goal is to serve; ethical leaders' desire to be ethical; charismatic leaders aspire to be charming; whereas authentic leaders strive above all else to be authentic (Northouse, 2013). Thus, authentic leaders do not have any fixed skills, styles, or traits. Authentic leaders will each have their own style, which incorporates various behaviors and skills and fits the specific context of the situation, based upon their particular life experiences (George, 2010).

What differentiates authentic leadership from other forms of leadership is that a leader may be more or less authentic and possess various characteristics of each of the aforementioned leadership models. In other words, a leader may be charismatic but...

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