What it Takes to Lead Authentically

Topic: Leadership
Publication: Leadership Quarterly (OCT 2010)
Article: Psychological processes linking authentic leadership to follower behaviors
Authors: F. O. Walumbwa, P. Wang, H. Wang, J. Schaubroeck, B. J. Avolio
Reviewed By: Lauren Wood

Although much research has been dedicated to examining how leaders impact their followers, a fairly new approach to leadership, authentic leadership, is proving to be an important contributor to employee behavior.  In general, four main qualities separate authentic leaders from others: 1) they display deep moral beliefs, 2) they evaluate decisions fairly, 3) they have a strong sense of self-awareness, and 4) they are open and truthful in their relationships.

The current study examined the effects of authentic leadership on followers’ behavioral patterns.  The results reveal that followers of authentic leaders tend to internalize the leader’s goals, values, and performance standards, adding to feelings of perceived similarity between leader and follower.  Additionally, followers of authentic leaders reported greater empowerment or autonomy in their work roles due to the open and inclusive work environment generated by the authentic leader.  Both perceived similarity and empowerment lead to other positive outcomes such as increased work engagement (motivated and connected to the work) and organizational citizenship behaviors – OCBs (e.g., helping behavior).

So how can organizations reap the benefits of authentic leadership?  If in a position to hire:  select candidates who possess qualities similar to authentic leaders (such as individuals who are ethical, fair, self-aware, and honest).  Current managers may also be trained to act more authentically by encouraging open communication among employees, providing employees with constructive feedback, and highlighting how the employees’ roles fit into the broader goals of the organization.        

Walumbwa, F. O., Wang, P., Wang, H., Schaubroeck, J, & Avolio, B. J. (2010). Psychological processes linking authentic leadership to follower behaviors. Leadership Quarterly, 21, 901-914.