Authentic Leadership? Get Real!

August 28, 2013

Many years ago I read a cartoon in a newspaper where a woman was pictured along with her exasperated husband. The text bubble from the man said:

“You have moulded and changed me since the day we met and now you have the nerve to tell me I’m NOT the man you married!”

The question is, should the man have stayed true to himself (authentic) and not allowed himself to be ‘moulded’ by his spouse?

A lot has been said and written about Authentic Leadership in the past few years and I like the idea but does it work in the ‘real world’? In my opinion no! The concept of ‘authenticity’ has been talked about and studied since the time of Plato and Confucius but Bill George’s book entitled simply Authentic Leadership bought it to our attention in terms of ‘modern management’ in 2003.

Authentic means “real, genuine, not a fake or a copy” which tells me that a Tyrant is authentic if he is true to his ‘type’ and is consistently a Tyrant! Isn’t he?

It is said that Authentic Leadership crosses the boundary between work and private life but in reality where do you draw the line on that? I suspect that most people including leaders and managers put on some sort of an ‘act’ at work. We learn in training course and through the use of personality profile tools how we are perceived by other people and how we need to “adapt” to communicate effectively with others! But how can we adapt and still be authentic?

For example the Johari Window technique (For those who don’t already know, The Johari window is a technique created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 and is used to help people to better understand their relationship with themselves and others) informs us that there is part of what we know about ourselves that we are unwilling to share openly with other people (The Hidden Area/Window).  So, can you ever really be authentic if this is the case?

You may have gathered by now that I’m not a fan of the term Authentic Leadership and if so do I have an alternate solution? Well not exactly but I do have some thoughts. I have worked for leaders in the past that I totally trusted and had confidence in their ability to steer the company but I didn’t like them as people and thought they had questionable morals! I have also worked with some lovely leaders but that I didn’t trust had the business acumen to lead the organisation effectively!

Great leaders for me then are the ones that I trust, implicitly. How do they gain that trust? By saying what they will do and then delivering on their promises time and time again.

Another great word is respect and for me a combination of trust and respect is the key to effective leadership. How do they gain respect? By issuing directions that they are happy to stick to themselves! Ordering that everyone must work through until close on Friday evening but disappearing at lunchtime is one example of how respect is lost, or gained by doing the opposite! How about issuing a pay freeze but taking a pay rise yourself?

Use the term Authentic Leadership if you want to, but for me the ‘real leader’ is one that has the trust and respect of all their people, and is not bothered about fancy titles or badges.

Many thanks

Stuart Allen

Trainer & Consultant at MTD Training

(Image by Stuart Miles at

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