On authentic leadership

At the European Academy of Management (EURAM) meetings this week, I attended a presentation by A. Weischer of her coauthored paper (Weischer & Weibler, 2011) in which they discuss the concept of authentic leadership. I was quite interested in the concept. To my surprise, according to Weischer and Weibler, the literature defines authentic leadership as consisting of the following dimensions:

1- relational transparency (i.e. not lying, honestly saying what you think)

2- emotional self-awareness,

3- inner-calmness and

4- appearing optimistic, hopeful, confident and resilient.

To me, authentic leadership in the sense of a leader being authentic only refers to the first dimension or property: speaking frankly, being true to oneself.

Further, in their paper Weischer and Weibler propose to study authentic leadership from the followers’ perspective, that is, to ask followers whether they perceive their leaders to be authentic. While this is indeed an interesting endeavor, in my view it does not address the fundamental question of relational transparency. The only actor who can tell whether a leader is relationally transparent is the leader him or herself. 

Relatedly, we had a very interesting discussion also about whether authentic leadership can be taught. Several people in the audience raised the issue that if individuals can be trained to be authentic leaders it suggests that individuals (leaders) can act or pretend to be authentic by attempting to appear calm, for instance. This goes back to the issue above about who can tell whether one speaks honestly.

Weischer, A. & Weibler, J. 2011. The life story approach to enacted authentic leadership – A theoretical contribution. EURAM conference program, page 71.

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