I’ve reached the point in my MBA class in Organizational Behavior where we are covering theories and philosophies of leadership. One of the concepts presented in the text we use is called authentic leadership. I’ve been aware of the concept for several years, but because I never really paid much attention to it, I realized yesterday that I did not understand it well enough to explain it to others.
I searched the highest quality peer-reviewed management journals for the most recent article on authentic leadership. I wanted to know 1) how is it defined, 2) how is it measured, and 3) where does it fit in the nomological network. I found a 2008 article published in the Journal of Management entitled “Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure,” by Fred Walumbwa and 4 other co-authors.
Here is how they define authentic leadership:
A pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development. (p. 94).
Frankly, I think that definition is a mess. It’s too complicated, which makes it impossible for normal folks to remember. In my opinion, that renders it useless as a guide for behavior in the real world.
The scale they developed to measure authentic leadership is better than the definition. For some strange reason, they did not publish the full measure they developed, but they did share these 8 questions that they use to tap self-awareness (1 and 2), relational transparency (3 and 4), internalized moral perspective (5 and 6), and balanced processing (7 and 8). These 8 questions would be asked of the follower to determine the degree to which a leader was seen as authentic:
1. Seeks feedback to improve interactions with others
2. Accurately describes how others view his or her capabilities
3. Says exactly what he or she means
4. Is willing to admit mistakes when they are made
5. Demonstrates beliefs that are consistent with actions
6. Makes decisions based on his/her core beliefs
7. Solicits views that challenge his or her deeply held positions
8. Listens carefully to different points of view before coming to conclusions
I like those questions a lot, but the reliability of the subscales were disappointingly marginal (highest was α = .77, low was α = .70). Because it is very difficult to publish a study with a measure that has reliability below .70, it is risky for other researchers to use these measures in their own research; consequently, I don’t anticipate seeing a lot of high quality research on authentic leadership the way it was defined and measured in this study.
The nomological network established in the study was also limited. Authentic leadership was a significant predictor of follower satisfaction, follower job performance, and organization climate. In a separate sample, they found that authentic leadership predicted organizational citizenship behavior, commitment, and satisfaction with the supervisor.
My favorite part of the study was this statement by the authors:
In sum, the proposed view of authentic leadership suggests that authentic leaders show to others that they genuinely desire to understand their own leadership to serve others more effectively. They act in accordance with deep personal values and convictions to build credibility and win the respect and trust of followers. By encouraging diverse viewpoints and building networks of collaborative relationships with followers, they lead in a manner that followers perceive and describe as authentic. (96).
I think any follower that observed that behavior in a leader would simply call that good leadership.
About the Author: Bret L. Simmons
Sites That Link to this Post
- LeaderLab » Well-Connected Leaders: Who Cares? | December 5, 2010