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Authentic Leadership

In the contemporary business world, firms must continuously adapt to survive and thrive, and authentic leaders can lead the way. Among the modern leadership styles, authentic leadership describes a leader who is confident in their morality and ethics and displays that to followers through engagement. An ideal authentic leader is genuine, open, and ethical. Authentic leaders build trusting relationships with followers and peers. They do this through open communication and clear articulation of their values and beliefs. But the relationship is not just one-way. Followers contribute to the creation of authentic leaders.

Building Trust

Any leader wants to build trusting relationships with their followers. This is a bedrock of authentic leadership. John Baldoni is a communications and leadership consultant who has worked for companies such as Ford, Kellogg, and Pfizer. In his book, Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders, he emphasized that an authentic leader gains their followers' trust through their words, thoughts, and deeds.[1]

Authentic leaders manage their communication with followers with the end goal of connecting with them better. Through communication, these leaders demonstrate openness and trust in their followers. They are also transparent about their values, thus showing their willingness to share ideas on an equal level with their followers.[2] Authentic leaders must manage their social presence to induce greater engagement with their followers. If they do this, they will be seen as a more approachable boss.[3]

Authenticity does not just lead to good leadership. Authentic leaders can help their organization overcome firm-wide resistance to change. By establishing trusting relationships, authentic leaders improve internal communication, are better able to convey their values, and help reduce internal friction. Such leaders ease followers’ fear of change by being predictable and dependable.[4]

Open Communication

Authentic leaders inform their followers of their goals, values, and morals through open communication. They make their positions clear and ensure that the people in the organization know the firm’s mission. More importantly, this open channel of communication empowers a leader to mobilize their followers behind the organization’s shared values. According to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, developers of the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) and authors of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, high-pressure, time-compressed task requirements help reveal a leader’s values.[5] Better to establish one’s true values before circumstances dictate it.

Open communication must take place more than just through formal, periodic employee engagement sessions. Interaction with followers must be ongoing to build the trusting relationships needed in this leader-follower bond. Spending time engaging with followers on social media and answering their emails creates a more personal bond. This engagement is more two-way between a leader and follower rather than directional from the leader down. Two-way communication conveys authenticity, accessibility, and approachability.[6]

Peers and Followers Contribute to Authentic Leader Development

While the leader is responsible for their development and must choose their path to become a great leader, followers and peers play a role in their development as well. Authentic leaders can use positive follower engagements to establish mutually nurturing relationships. Positive exchanges can inspire both leader and follower. Leaders, peers, and followers can morally uplift each other through ethical activity observed on the job and the mutual pursuit of moral endeavors.[7]

Leaders and followers influence each other. Positive relationships between authentic leaders and followers help organizations reduce the risk of ethical scandals. Leaders that demonstrate a moral perspective and self-awareness are better equipped to induce pro-social behaviors in followers. As a result, the organization will be populated by followers with more exceptional moral courage and an organization with fewer scandals.[8]

Preparing a Leader to be Authentic

Authentic leaders can be developed. A leader does not have to come to the position already knowing how to emanate their authenticity. Leaders must know how to be ethical leaders before they face a leadership dilemma. Dilemmas are usually emergent, can be emotion-laden, and take one by surprise. When a leader is faced with a moral dilemma, they will react instinctually.[9] Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel took this notion further in their book, Blind Spots. They wrote that leaders often predict they will respond to a dilemma in a calm, cool, thoughtful way, but actually react more emotionally and impulsively. An excellent authentic leader could better influence followers by encouraging moral courage through thoughtful, rational, ethical intentions.[10]

As an authentic leader develops, they grow into one with a sense of high self-esteem. These leaders become more open and self-disclosing. They are more accepting of their true selves. As a result, they are more willing to encourage others and celebrate their gains rather than hoarding the focus on themselves. Authentic leaders with high self-esteem inspire others to achieve, reach beyond the familiar and safe, and embrace a challenging environment necessary for their success.[11]

Authentic leaders are leaders that others want to follow. They can lead the organization through tough times and times of change. It is incumbent on the whole organization, not just the leader, to encourage those they entrust with the reins of leadership to openly communicate with others and to act ethically.


  • authentic leaders are confident in their morality and express that to followers through engagement

  • leaders and followers influence each other to be ethical

  • before a leader faces an ethical dilemma, they should be molded into an ethical person

[1] Baldoni (2004) [2] Winston and Patterson (2006) [3] Men and Tsai (2016) [4] VanVelsor, McCauley, & Ruderman (2010) [5] Kouzes and Posner (2012) [6] Huffaker (2010), Men and Tsai (2016) [7] Zhu, Avolio, Riggio, & Sosik (2011) [8] Hannah, Avolio, & Walumbwa (2011) [9] Badaracco (1997) [10] Bazerman and Tenbrunsel (2011) [11] Hultman & Gillerman (2002)

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