Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

What Is Authentic Leadership? Do You Have It?

Here are the four components of Authentic Leadership. Which Do You Possess?

A relatively new theory of leadership focuses on leaders dealing in a straightforward and honest way with followers. A prominent theory of authentic leadership views it as composed of four distinct components.

1. Self-Awareness (“Know Thyself”). A prerequisite for being an authentic leader is knowing your own strengths, limitations, and values. Knowing what you stand for and what you value is critical. Moreover, self-awareness is needed in order to develop the other components of authentic leadership.

2. Relational Transparency (“Be Genuine”). This involves being honest and straightforward in dealing with others. An authentic leader does not play games or have a hidden agenda. You know where you stand with an authentic leader.

3. Balanced Processing (“Be Fair-Minded”). An effective authentic leader solicits opposing viewpoints and considers all options before choosing a course of action. There is no impulsive action or “hidden agendas”–plans are well thought out and openly discussed.

4. Internalized Moral Perspective (“Do the Right Thing”). An authentic leader has an ethical core. She or he knows the right thing to do and is driven by a concern for ethics and fairness.

The roots of authentic leadership come from ancient Greek philosophy that focuses on the development of core, or cardinal, virtues. These virtues are Prudence (fair-mindedness, wisdom, seeing all possible courses of action), Temperance (being emotionally balanced and in control), Justice (being fair in dealings with others), and Fortitude (courage to do the right thing). [You can read more about these leadership virtues here.]

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy. It takes a great deal of self-reflection (getting to know oneself), and the courage to do the right thing. It involves a degree of selflessness. In a world full of morally corrupt and dysfunctional leaders, authentic leadership theory has become quite popular as people search for the “good” leaders.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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