In which I argue that essentially all leadership is authentic.
The phrase/idea “Authentic Leadership” has come up in various events in my life (leadership training, strategic planning and organizational goal setting) and there’s something about it that bothers me. It starts with the definition which basically says that the leadership actions (whatever those are) are consistent with some set of beliefs. For example, if I believe that the work of individuals is of the highest importance, and I make decisions on policies or distribution of resources that prioritize and support such work then I’m being authentic. However, if instead choose to support institutional needs, I’m being inauthentic. Or so it would be said.
I could live with that definition, if that was all there was to it. However, it is usually taken to another level in that there are certain ‘good’ beliefs and authentic leadership should reflect those beliefs whether or not the leader believes them. Or that a ‘good’ leader should have these beliefs and make decisions accordingly and thus be authentic. In other words, the opposite of ‘authentic’ is ‘bad’
Ignoring the expanded definition of authentic, I still have an issue. Unless I’m a chaotic or deceitful soul, my actions are a reflection of my true beliefs. Those beliefs just may not be my stated beliefs. For example, I may say I prioritize the work of individuals, but if I’m always choosing to side with institutional needs, then my real belief is that institutional needs are a priority. In other words, everyone is an authentic leader.
Ideally a conversation about authentic leadership should not be about a leader stating their beliefs, but, through reflection or input from others, should be about a leader identifying what their choices say about their true beliefs. Then those beliefs can be viewed against what the leader thinks their beliefs are and what the leadership development literature (of the moment) says are the desirable beliefs. Then they can work towards adopting those beliefs and making their actions reflect those beliefs.