“Authentic leadership (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Gardner et al, 2021) describes leaders who are self-aware, process positive and negative ego-relevant information in a balanced fashion, achieve relational transparency with close others, and are guided in their actions by an internalized moral perspective (31 instances)” (Dinh et al., 2014).
Authentic leadership almost seems to be a misnomer for a leadership theory, an obviously advantageous practice wherein the practitioner knows their self, limits the application of bias while simultaneously depending on the guiding morals and logic that were developed and integrated during their professional and personal “upbringing”, and requires close, genuine relationships. “…authentic leadership results when elements of the “true self” become incorporated into core aspects of leader identity” (Latta, 2019). In short, the theory of authentic leadership drives personal, moral, and ethical opinions, decisions, and viewpoints into the forefront of thought processes and management practices. Even more, authentic leadership requires a constant and consistent drive towards improvement, bridging the gap between the current state of the leader and their own, aspirational future state. “The essence of authentic leadership is alignment of actions with an identity grounded in the “true self.” Theoretically, achieving such alignment requires self-awareness of discrepancies between current leadership capacity and elements of aspirational identity” (Latta, 2019).
The strength associated with and implied by this approach originates from honesty it requires: honesty with oneself, honesty with one’s direct and indirect reports and colleagues, honesty in every aspect of one’s existence. Honesty produces trust, and trust is essential in any personal or professional relationship. It increases efficiency and efficacy, simplifies individual interactions, removing the need for moral assessment, and builds a closed organizational construct framed in ethical certainty. “And they did not ask for an accounting from the men into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, for they dealt honestly” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, 2 Kings 12:15). More sweetly stated, “Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Proverbs 24:26). The value of this core concept in authentic leadership, that is honesty, is that it removes doubt and instills confidence.
There are arguments against the actual materialization of this leadership style. Some believe it is the stuff of legends. “Combining both, authenticity and leadership, in one concept becomes an endeavor only heroes from mythological realm can ever aspire to successfully overcome (pgs. 384–385)” (Gardner et al, 2021). Some believe it is simply out of reach. “…the attainment of authenticity and authentic leadership are aspirational goals which few of us will fully realize” (Gardner et al, 2021). Why?
A first response might include a sarcastic or an outright negative view of human nature, which cannot be dismissed. “They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Psalm 53:3). However, nothing is impossible, not with the infinite power God provides. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001, Philippians 4:13).
While a trait or a construct such as honesty or a theory like authentic leadership may be difficult to assess, it is not impossible to measure and achieve, nor is it without precedence. “…the self-referential nature of authenticity makes it difficult for others to assess, and hence researchers to measure. However, this is true of many of the constructs that we study in organizational behavior, including motivation, attitudes, justice, and cognition. Just because a construct is difficult to measure, does not mean that it does not exist” (Gardner et al, 2021).
What is extremely interesting to this author is the connections drawn between advanced education and authentic leadership. A “…doctoral study in leadership may promote development of authentic leader identity as reflected in both the content and structure of students’ ILTs (implicit leadership theories), as well as the integration of current self with aspirational leader identities” (Latta, 2019). If the doctoral program at Liberty University drives personal and academic growth in this manner, students will advance towards excellence at an exponential rate.
Dinh, J. E., Lord, R. G., Gardner, W. L., Meuser, J. D., Liden, R. C., & Hu, J. (2014). Leadership theory and research in the new millennium: Current theoretical trends and changing perspectives. Leadership Quarterly, 25(1), 36-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2013.11.005
Latta, G. F. (2021). Eliciting the True Self: The Effects of Doctoral Education on Students’ Implicit Leadership Theories and Authentic Leader Identity Development. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 16(1), 30-56. https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775119858638
Gardner, W. L., Karam, E. P., Alvesson, M., & Einola, K. (2021). Authentic leadership theory: The case for and against. The Leadership Quarterly, , 101495. https://doi.org/https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1016/j.leaqua.2021.101495https://doi.org/10.1080/08832323.2014.903888