What Does Good Leadership Look Like?

The four characteristics of the authentic leader and their ugly opposites

Posted Oct 01, 2014

Most of us can think of examples of poor leadership.  It is distressing and difficult to be in organizations under such leadership, particularly during times of change.

If you are in such an organisation and have the power to make a difference what can you do?  Well, the best place to start is to know what you are looking for in a leader.

Authentic transformative leadership has four characteristics:

The first is idealised influence.  This is when leaders are guided by their moral commitment to do the right thing in terms of their employees, themselves and other stakeholders. 

The second is inspirational motivation.  This is when leaders inspire their followers to be their best, to achieve greater heights than they thought were possible and foster their self-efficacy.

The third is intellectual stimulation.  This is when the leader is able to step back and not provide all the answers but challenge others to work out solutions for themselves and help them see things differently.

The fourth is individualised consideration.  This is when leaders empathise, listen and genuinely care for others.

If that sounds straightforward, it isn't.  The paradox is that unless you know what to look for you wouldn’t know the authentic transformational leader was leading.  This is because the authentic leader does not fit the traditional stereotype of the leader. 

Stereotypically, organisations want to see their leaders leading.  Sadly, what this means is that many people spend their time trying to do things that make them look like leaders, not in the eyes of those that they are supposed to lead but in the eyes of those above them in the organisation. 

This leads them to engage in behaviours that are the very opposite of authentic transformational leadership.

Instead of idealised influence they want to please those more senior even when it means doing the wrong thing. Instead of the inspirational motivation of others they want to be seen to shine themselves even when it means keeping others in the shadows. Instead of intellectual stimulation they want to be seen as having the answers themselves even when it means disempowering others.  Instead of individualised consideration they want to seen to be caring even when by so doing it detracts from the actual care given. 

In this way, there is a downward spiral of employee well-being, productivity and morale as more of the same dysfunctional style of leadership is heaped on to solve the problems that it has itself created. 

If an organisation has a problem in leadership it always starts from the top. It is vital that the top person understands what authentic leadership looks like.  If they do it will trickle down throughout the organisation. 

Reference

Sivanathan, N., Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., & Barling, J. (2004). Leading well: Transformational leadership and well-being.  (pp. 241-255).   In P. A. Linley and S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 241-255). Wiley.

see, http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471459062.html