Definition

authentic leadership

Authentic leadership is a management style in which the authority figure of a group or organization deals with and communicates with his or her followers in a truthful and direct way.

Authentic leadership goes against the commonplace belief that leadership requires acting, in which leaders exhibit a different personality in the workplace than they do in their personal lives.

Authentic leadership has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, which examined the development of cardinal virtues in a leader: prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude.

There are many prominent theories about authentic leadership, including one from a well-known book written by former Medtronic CEO and chairman Bill George, called Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, which was published in 2003. This book catapulted the authentic leadership management style into widespread acceptance, including among many CEOs. It urged the new generation of 21st-century leaders to lead with their hearts as well as their minds, with passion and an ethical code.

These theories agree on the following characteristics of authentic leadership:

  • Self-awareness and genuineness: Authentic leaders are well-acquainted with their strengths, weaknesses, feelings and values. They also don’t try to hide their limitations from their followers or employees; rather, they show their true selves.
  • Transparency and fairness: Authentic leaders do not have ulterior motives or carry out impulsive decisions. Instead, they think thoroughly about each plan of action and discuss them openly with their followers, even considering dissenting viewpoints. They also don’t shy away from showing their emotions to their employees, as well as communicating with them with empathy.
  • Focus on results and the long term: These leaders make decisions based on the mission and objectives of the organization as a whole, rather than on their own self-interest. They also know the importance of patience in being able to achieve long-term shareholder value that best benefits the company and its employees.
This was last updated in August 2015

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