Authentic Leadership Development

In 75 minutes or less, how do you teach a class on Authentic Leadership Theory?  Background reading is a chapter from Peter Northouse’s, Leadership Theory and Practice.  Today, we started with a clip from the movie Glory that features Matthew Broderick’s character struggling with his role as leader.  Big thanks to leadership teacher/author extraordinaire Doug Crandall for recommending that clip!

QUESTION: When you reflect on your own life, what is one experience, relationship, or event that had a big impact on you? Something you might point back at it and say, “this had a shaping effect on who I am today or helped set the course that brought me to where I am today.”Pair up with someone you might not know so well and share your stories.

This exercise gives us practical experience thinking about the “Critical Life Events” component of Authentic Leadership. It can be an eye opener for people to make connections between their past and who they are today, and it can be an eye opener for people to learn meaningful things about others that they did not know.  Again quoting from Northouse, “Critical life events act as catalysts for change. Shamir and Eilam (2005) argued that authentic leadership rests heavily on the insights people attach to their life experiences. When leaders tell their life stories, they gain greater self-knowledge, more clarity about who they are, and a better understanding of their role. By understanding their own life experiences, leaders become more authentic.”  And, I would add, drawing on Goffee and Jones, telling our life stories is a way to “show” ourselves to those we work with (knowing ourselves isn’t enough, we must also show ourselves).

“Authentic leadership is a complex process that emphasizes the development of qualities that help leaders to be perceived as trustworthy and believable by their followers.  The leader’s job is to learn to develop these qualities and apply them to the common good as they serve others” (Northouse, p. 221).

Drawing heavily on Bruce Avolio and colleagues, Northouse shares a model for Authentic Leadership.  We finished class by going through the model (we barely scratched the surface).  The four components that are the basis for authentic leadership are: Self-Awareness, Internalized Moral Perspective, Balanced Processing, and Relational Transparency. Three factors influence how those four components work, which we can think of as setting the conditions and context that allows those four components to work.  They are: Positive Psychological Capacities (confidence, hope, optimism, resilience), Moral Reasoning, and Critical Life Events.

One observation I’d like to make is that the “Internalized Moral Perspective” and “Balanced Processing” components exist in tension and balance each other out.  Think about it, we want a leader with strong convictions who doesn’t cave to pressure or change willy nilly while we also want that same leader to listen to us and genuinely consider when we have an informed opinion that is at odds with his position.  So, we find leaders are authentic when their actions are aligned with their beliefs (words and deeds match) and they fully consider others’ viewpoints before they make decisions.

With Leader-Member-Exchange, we asked ourselves: If in fact having more high-quality leader-subordinate interactions is a good thing, how do leaders create (or at least set the conditions for) high-quality relationships with their subordinates?  

QUESTION TO REFLECT ON: How might Authentic Leadership provide you a pathway (or set the conditions) for you to develop high-quality relationships with the people you work with? (What, if any, is the connection between L-M-X and Authentic Leadership Theory?)

Go deeper: Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure

Bruce Avolio, The High Impact Leader

Bill George, True North

Goffee and Jones, Why Should Anyone Be Led by YOU? 

PS. Doesn’t this course sound awesome? 

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