The World of Work Project

Authentic Leadership: Leading From a Moral Perspective

Authentic leadership is a specific behavioral pattern of leadership. It includes: clarity of values, self-awareness, balanced processing, relational transparency, authentic behavior and an internalized moral perspective.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Authentic Leadership

Authentic leadership is not what most people think it is. It’s not simply being true to who you are and leading as yourself. It’s much more than that, and it’s much better than that. Luckily, it’s possible to become an authentic leader.

Authentic leadership isn’t just about you, it’s about respecting others too.

Authentic leadership is the name given a psychological construct that captures a specific behavioral pattern of leadership. That’s a bit of an academic description, but it basically says that authentic leadership means something specific.

At a high level, Authentic Leaders tend to be positive people who have an honest and accurate view of who they are, who promote openness with others, who build trust and who seek to lead from ethical foundations. Authentic leadership is linked to the field of positive psychology and often forms the foundations of charismatic and transformational leadership.

There is a big difference between Authentic Leadership as a construct and just being authentic as a leader in that Authentic Leadership encompasses a positive moral framework and ethical foundation, sometimes referred to as an “internalized moral perspective”.

Authentic Leadership shown as a diagram of behavioral traits

It is possible to be both authentic and a leader without being an Authentic Leader, if you’re leadership is not grounded in ethics and positivity. In some ways, Authentic Leadership can be thought of as embodying traits opposite to those of the dark triad of leadership behaviors: Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy.

The Behaviors

Authentic leadership is a term that applies to leaders who follow a specific set of behaviors as described below.

Sometimes your way isn’t the right way.

Clarity of values: Authentic Leaders understand themselves and are clear on their personal values.

Self-awareness: Authentic Leaders are self aware and work towards raising their self-awareness.

Balanced processing: Authentic Leaders listen to, are open to and value differing views, even if they don’t agree with them.

Relational transparency: Authentic Leaders have transparent, open and honest relationships with others.

Authentic behavior: Authentic leaders walk the talk and use self-regulation to ensure they live their values.

Benefits of Authentic Leadership

Authentic leaders provide a triple layer of benefits. They provide benefits for their organizations, their teams and themselves.

Benefits to Organizations

From an organizational perspective, authentic leaders simultaneously increase well-being and engagement, helping create teams that flourish.

A diagram showing the benefits to organizations of authentic leadership

Benefits to Team Members

Employees who identify their leaders as Authentic Leaders have significantly better engagement, loyalty, well-being, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment than those who do not identify their leaders as being Authentic Leaders.

Benefits to Leaders of Leading Authentically

A happy person - showing the benefits of authentic leadership to individuals
Look, a happy leader…

Leaders who practice Authentic Leadership have high levels of psychological well-being (they’re happy), have enhanced autonomy, motivation to grow and a greater sense of purpose than non Authentic Leaders. Their self esteem is also less contingent on outside factors (they derive more self work internally) and they’re more engaged as individuals. As a result, they can achieve great things.

Learning More

Leadership is complicated and difficult and requires personal development. This development should consider the difference between character and personality ethics. If we want to really develop, we should focus on our character and try to improve ourselves.

Improving your self awareness is a key step in improving our character. It’s only when you’re aware of who you are that you can show your vulnerability in work and lead in line with what you believe. Developing an understanding of your personal values is an important step in this journey.

You might also enjoy our podcast on personal values, which you can listen to below:

The World of Work Project View

This is a great construct, and one that leads to great results for everyone involved.

We think the focus on personal development and ethics is very important. We also think that authentic leadership embodies an element of kindness and respect for others that supports increased levels of inclusion, wellbeing and psychological safety. Finally, We think that if there were more authentic leaders in the world, then the world would be a better place.

In our view, authentic leadership really isn’t just about leaders though. The behavioral traits can be adopted by anyone, and we’d encourage that. It is true, though, that trying to be an authentic leader is not always an easy thing to do. This is particularly the case in organizations with cultures that do not support authentic leadership, or in teams where leaders or peers embody some of the darker traits of leadership. The fact that it is difficult though, makes it all the more impressive of a feat for leaders to achieve.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This post is based primarily on conversations with authentic leadership coaches and this article on authentic leadership by Laura Kinsler, who was the guest speaker on our podcast episode on this topic. In her discussion with us she discussed work by Tony Grant as published in the article “The third ‘generation’ of workplace coaching: creating a culture of quality conversations“. We have also used our own professional experience for further details.

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