Authentic Leadership

*The following was for an assignment in the Ph.D. program I am in.  The course is for Leadership Development.

In his letters, the apostle Paul continually calls the reader back to examine his ministry and conduct (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).  For Paul, part of his ministry repertoire is a call to authentic Leadership.  Defining authentic leadership is a difficult task according to Peter Northouse (2016) because various leadership schools emphasize different components.  Gardner, Coliser, Davis, and Dickens (2011) also note this difficulty by focusing on contemporary and alternate definitions that combine distinctive pivotal themes.  Northouse (2016) also utilizes a developmental approach by focusing on four key areas: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.

In everyday terms, self-awareness is a person’s ability to know their “values, identity, emotions, motives, and goals” (Northouse, 2016, p. 202).  Leaders who know themselves will have a high degree of confidence but not overconfidence (Petit & Bollaert, 2012).  Sosik and Cameron (2010) write that understanding self is the basis for self-awareness but that it is possible to construct a biased view of self and others.  Having the inability to see the real self could disrupt the leader’s attempt at authenticity.  Diddams and Chang (2012) notes that a danger to playing to one’s authentic self could lead to damaging reactions to negative information.  Being defensive of weaknesses because of a goal to be real could result in amplifying flaws.

Internalized moral perspective is deep knowledge of individual purpose.  Petit and Bollaert (2012) notes that the authentic leader acts consistently from morals, purpose, and knowledge of self.  The authentic leader operates from a calling or purpose.  Northouse (2016) calls this the ability of a leader to self-regulate behaviors by personal standards.  Chang and Diddams (2009) warns that a false sense of higher self-regulated morality could lead to undesirable outcomes.  A view of being morally superior could result in self-justifying actions that are hurtful to others.

Northouse (2016) describes balanced processing as the ability to remain objective.  The authentic leader can consider the perspective and behaviors of others while maintaining emotional responses and biases.  It is questionable at how much an individual can be entirely objective.  Objectivity is possible in interactive situations by leaders who value other’s opinions.  It requires sureness in personal ideas and an open-mindedness to hear others out.  It is also the ability to remain even-keeled when confronting conflict.

Finally, relational transparency is described by Petit and Bollaert (2012) as the endeavor to engage followers in open-minded experiences.  It is the leader’s capability to guide others into higher levels of authenticity.  Northouse (2016) asserts that there is an attempt by the leader to be open and honest with others.  Of course, this requires that others do the same in return.  This final component relies heavily on those other than the leader.


Chang, G., & Diddams, M. (2009). Hubris or humility: Cautions surrounding the construct and self-definition of authentic leadership. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1-6.

Diddams, M., & Chang, G. (2012). Only human: Exploring the nature of weakness in authentic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 23(3), 593-603.

Gardner, W. L., Coliser, C. C., Davis, K. M., & Dickens, M. P. (2011). Authentic leadership: A review of the literature and research agenda. The Leadership Quarterly, 22(6), 1120-1145.

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and pratice (7th ed.): SAGE Publications.

Petit, V., & Bollaert, H. (2012). Flying too close to the sun? Hubris among CEOs and how to prevent it. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(265-283). doi:10.1007/s10551-011-1097-1

Sosik, B. J., & Cameron, J. C. (2010). Character and authentic transformational leadership bevahior expanding the ascetic self toward others. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(4), 251-269.


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