WHY DO I BELIEVE AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP MATTERS?


(Image from Wix)

Recently I felt the need to write a piece about ‘why I believe Authentic Leadership matters’ and, at the same time, I found myself reading yet another story about a leader within an organisation who allegedly took advantage of his position to ‘hug’ female employees. I was annoyed, frustrated and quite frankly angered. I could now rant about the million reasons why, but I’ll save you the pain of that. I’m guessing we could both rant.

So with this latest story in mind, I find myself sitting with my original question, why do I believe authentic leadership (AL) matters?

Academics refer to AL as ‘a pattern of leader behaviour that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate’ (1) . Put simply, authentic leaders create a positive working environment. Specifically an authentic leader:

  • Is clear on their values (integrity is usually one of them)

  • Encourages relational transparency (i.e. open communication)

  • Walk the talk (again integrity is important)

  • Work on raising their own self awareness (they are continually looking to develop themselves)

  • Are open to different perspectives. (They may not agree with everyone but are willing to listen).

This is not meant to be a checklist or another to do list. Nor is it finite (I believe leadership is more complicated than just 5 qualities). It is simply pointers to what the research is saying appears to contribute to positive leadership. Elements or ingredients to good leadership. This is about who a leader is being as well as what they are doing. In a brilliant paper by Illies et al (2), they talk about the idea that when a leader embraces these behaviours and qualities they give permission and invite others to do/be the same. In this way they not only create followership but also plant the seeds for the development of other authentic leaders. I love this!

So back to the question of why do I believe AL is important? Here is what the evidence says.

AL:

  • is linked to positive well-being for leaders.

  • Is linked to higher levels of meaning and purpose for leaders.

  • Is linked to high levels of trust in leaders by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of well-being by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of creative problem solving by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of innovation by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of loyalty by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of organisational citizenship behaviour by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of empowerment by staff.

  • Is linked to high levels of work engagement.

  • Is linked to high levels of individual and group performance.

I’m not saying this form of leadership will save the world...but I do believe (based on empirical evidence and my own personal experience of working for people I would consider to be AL’s) that it can make a positive difference to our organisations, communities and society at large.

I also believe that while leaders of organisations need to embrace this approach we (you the reader and I) need to own our part in this. For many years I worked in male dominated organisations and accepted behaviour that I felt uncomfortable with, yet I never spoke up. I get that I also need to take responsibility in my own way. That I too, need to safeguard my own trustworthiness (3).

So yes, staff need to take a stand (in fact in the case I refer to earlier that is exactly what some staff chose to do) but equally I believe it is leaders (no matters what level) that ultimately set the organisational climate. There is no point having values on a company’s wall and having a leader continually act in direct conflict with those values. While I know it is only one element in the mix of creating a positive workplace, I believe AL is an important ingredient and that it matters.

REFERENCES

1. Walumbwa, F.O., Avolio, B.J., Gardner, W.L., Wernsing, T.S. & Peterson, S.J. (2008). AL: development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89–126.

2. Ilies, R. , Morgeson, F.P. & Nahrgang, J.D. (2005). AL and eudaemonic well-being: Understanding leader-follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 373–394.

3. Gardiner, L. (2016). Trust in Organisational Life. Journal of the Association for Management Education and Development. Volume 23, Number 4, Winter 2016, 36-47.

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