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? 


Leader Member Exchange Theory

I had the privilege of teaching a class today on Leader-Member-Exchange theory, drawing heavily from Peter Northhouse’s, Leadership: Theory and Practice. The basic concept for the class follows:

QUESTION:  What is LMX Theory?  What makes it unique compared to other theories in the course?

Notes: Initially this was a descriptive theory, describing what was happening in organizations.  Leaders have unique relationships with each of their subordinates. The theory is focused on the interactions between leaders and led and introduces “leadership” from a relational perspective. Researchers found that employees could be generally categorized into two groups: the “in” and the “out” group, where the in group employees had a relationship with the leader that went beyond the formal role relationship.  These employees receive extra influence, opportunities, and rewards.  The out-group employees did what was expected based on their formal role descriptions, and they received standard job benefits.

QUESTION: What does this mean from the “subordinate’s” perspective?  From the “Leader’s” perspective?

Imagine that I am the boss and all of you are sales reps that work for me.  You just went to a training program where you learned all about LMX.  The veil has been lifted, and you are back at work.  How is this new knowledge changing the way you see things?  What are you looking for? What are you thinking about?

Forget the above scenario.  You are the boss and YOU just went on that biz training program and learned all there is to know about LMX. The veil has been lifted.  What do you do with your new knowledge?  As you return to work, what are you looking for?  What are you thinking about?

I then read from Made to Stick, a book by Chip and Dan Heath — (p. 111-113) the part where they relay the famous “blue eye, brown eye” experiment in which students were grouped and discriminated against based on their eye color. [read about it]

I related two other research examples, one of which was the “Pygmalion Effect” work done by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson in the 1960s whereby they labeled students as “poised for intellectual growth this year.”  Those randomly chosen students thought they were “smart” and so did their teachers.  It had an effect on what they learned and how they did in school.  It created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

QUESTION: How does this knowledge connect to what we are talking about with LMX?

QUESTION: What has the LMX research shown about the benefits of being in the “in group” or being in an organization that is characterized by high-quality leader-member exchanges?  …for the employees?  …for the organization?

Notes: Less employee turnover, greater organizational commitment, more promotions. Employees feel better, accomplish more, are more dependable, communicative, involved, have more energy, and are even more creative.  They have more access to the boss and information, receive preferential treatment, better feedback, etc.

QUESTION: Can you imagine a person who might not want to be in the “in group” for whatever reason?  Notes: e.g., someone that is not in a position due to family or other constraints to give of themselves so much or to take on the additional roles and commitment that being in the “in group” entails.  Perhaps an employee seeks meaning outside of the “day job” and is perfectly satisfied sticking to the formal role. 

QUESTION: With that type of individual aside…Given this research, does it make sense to take a prescriptive approach — and to seek to expand the “in group” as much as possible? IOW, should our goal be to move everyone into the “in group”?  Is that even possible?

QUESTION: Describe what a high quality leader-member exchange (aka, a really positive leader/subordinate relationship) looks like in action?  Describe the kind of relationship you think would be really effective for leaders and their employees to have.

What is “leadership making” according to LMX Theory?  How do you set the conditions for more employees to move from the “out” to the “in” group — or from the periphery to the core, where the core is a place of deeper engagement, meaning, commitment, and identity?

Notes: Moving from being a “Stranger” to being an “Acquaintance” to creating a “Mature Partnership.”  Leadership making is an intentional focus on developing high-trust, mutually beneficial relationships with ones employees (and seeing each relationship as unique).  Interactions between the leader and the led are characterized by mutual trust, respect, and commitment/obligation.  In the process, the goals of the leader, followers, and the organization are all advanced.

CONTINUE TO THINK ABOUT: How do leaders create (or at least set the conditions for) high-quality relationships with their Soldiers (or employees)?

Personal Reflection: LMX elevates the importance of the relationship between the leader and the led.  It suggests, or leads one to believe, that the main source of meaning and commitment at work is driven by the relationship with the boss. What does that mean for those unlucky enough to be stuck with a horrible boss?  What is missing with this strict focus on the leader and the led?  For one, it leaves out the “mission” or “purpose” of the organization as well as the meaning and impact of peer-to-peer relationships.  A missing component is how much you believe in the purpose of the organization and the people that you work with.

I’m seeing a connection between LMX and some of my own work with core-group theory and the process whereby members of an informal community (or voluntary organization) move from the periphery to the core as far as their engagement and participation.  The “in-group out-group” aspect of LMX is a different model for looking at movement from the periphery to the core.  I like the focus of LMX on interactions between leaders and employees or “potential leaders.”  The idea of “Leadership Making” is connected to this and to leader development more broadly.  I’d like to read more about that topic.

I really enjoyed diving into this today!