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Warning for excessive positivity: Authentic leadership and other traps in leadership studies



We study authentic leadership as a prominent but problematic example of positive leadership that we use as a more general “warning” against the current fashion of excessive positivity in leadership studies. Without trying to cover “everything”, we critically examine the principal tenets of mainstream authentic leadership theory and reveal a number of fundamental flaws: shaky philosophical and theoretical foundations, tautological reasoning, weak empirical studies, nonsensical measurement tools, unsupported knowledge claims and a generally simplistic and out of date view of corporate life. Even though our study focuses on authentic leadership, much of our criticism is also applicable to other popular positive leadership theories, such as transformational, servant, ethical and spiritual leadership.
This is the post-print version (author’s manuscript as accepted for publishing after peer review but prior to final
layout and copyediting) of the following article:
Alvesson, M., & Einola, K. (2019). Warning for excessive positivity: Authentic leadership and other traps in
leadership studies. The Leadership Quarterly. DOI:
Readers are kindly asked to use the official publication in references.
Warning for excessive positivity: Authentic leadership and other
traps in leadership studies
Mats Alvesson, Lund University & Katja Einola, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki
We study authentic leadership as a prominent but problematic example of positive leadership that
we use as a more general “warning” against the current fashion of excessive positivity in
leadership studies. Without trying to cover “everything”, we critically examine the principal tenets
of mainstream authentic leadership theory and reveal a number of fundamental flaws: shaky
philosophical and theoretical foundations, tautological reasoning, weak empirical studies,
nonsensical measurement tools, unsupported knowledge claims and a generally simplistic and out
of date view of corporate life. Even though our study focuses on authentic leadership, much of our
criticism is also applicable to other popular positive leadership theories, such as transformational,
servant, ethical and spiritual leadership.
1. Introduction
We live in an age where appealing images and impressive claims regarding leadership are central.
Consultants, educators and publishing houses offer seductive solutions to problems and make
organizations and work life appear in a positive light, if only their solutions are implemented.
Leadership also represents a straightforward springboard for many scholarly careers. The field is
very much part of the “positive scholarship” turn in organization studies where we find a range of
broadly similar theories. Some researchers group transformational, ethical, authentic, and other
similar approaches as “newer genre” leadership theories (Hannah et al., 2014). Others combine
ethical, authentic and servant leadership theories as ”moral approaches” (Lemaine et al., 2018) that
all are claimed to lead to an enormous number of good outcomes.
Unfortunately, dominant versions of positive leadership score higher on appearing good and
reflecting people’s interest in easy, ideologically appealing solutions than on offering a qualified
understanding of organizational life and manager-subordinate relations. In fact, over-emphasizing
the person of the leader can make matters worse. It may lead to losing consideration of leadership
as situated acts of purposeful and systematic influencing of subordinates to reach concrete, task-
related goals, as well as missing the relational nature of leadership altogether. Ideologies may be
inspirational for research and make it catchier on the surface, but they “can become a stultifying
straightjacket in relation to research …and make one’s research a prisoner of that ideology”
(Eagly, 2016, p. 12). Although the positive leadership “recipes” offer hope and inspiration in terms
of idealized role models in the midst of what is often a messy and ambiguous practitioner daily
work life, they are far from being anchored in solid theoretical foundations based on a thorough
understanding of leader-follower/ manager-subordinate relations and of what it takes to get tasks
done in various contexts of modern work life.
Popular theories like transformational and authentic leadership are seriously flawed (Alvesson &
Kärreman, 2016; Spoelstra, Butler & Delaney, 2016; Van Knippenberg & Sitkin, 2013; Yukl,
1999). The intellectual foundations they stand on are too shaky to warrant the popularity they have
inspired within the scientific community. They are also unhelpful in organizational practice
beyond the appeal of pop-management books and inspirational talks that have little to do with
serious academic knowledge work. More than anything, their appeal is to mass audiences eager to
learn from, be inspired by or mimic those who are perceived as successful in business. Given the
popularity of these concepts borrowed from positive psychology and their persistent nature, in our
view, the entire field of leadership studies risks failure as a serious scholarly enterprise. The field
is strongly in need of replacing upbeat ideologies fueling fantasies of the morally grounded,
ethical, good, powerful leader being the central subject creating all sorts of positive outcomes
through adopting the right leadership formulae, with theoretically more solid and less ideological
Our aim is to raise the flag against what we consider an excessive positivity that has been a
fashionable trend in leadership studies for over 15 years. We focus on the popular but problematic
concept of authentic leadership (see also Pfeffer, 2015 and Spoelstra, 2018). The Disneyland-
inspired good leader, a moral peak performer, may not find most organizations a hospitable
environment to begin with. But apparently the leadership community and its journals do, despite –
or possibly because of – flawed theory development, widely used but poorly operationalized
methodology (see e.g. Antonakis et al., 2010; van Knippenberg & Sitkin, 2013), a limited sense of
realities of organizational life, strongly focused idealized imaginary and unrealistic expectations
on human nature. The choice of authentic leadership seems appropriate here because it is
frequently referred to as the “root” of other positive forms of leadership studies (Avolio &
Gardner, 2005) such as transformational leadership it perhaps stands closest to conceptually. It is
also fashionable. Despite a number of retractions (Atwater et al., 2014) and serious concerns
raised with fundamental issues such as theoretical foundations, empirical evidence and construct
overlap even by its proponents (c.f. Banks et al., 2016; Cooper at al., 2005; Gardner et al., 2011),
truly critical studies discussing authentic leadership are few (Ford & Harding, 2011; Ladkin &
Spiller, 2013; Spoelstra et al., 2016 are notable exceptions). Yet to our knowledge, none has been
published in Leadership Quarterly, the leading publication in the field of leadership so far (Sidani
& Rowe, 2018, is to some extent an exception).
In our view, one fundamental problem that should be countered is that the research community is
divided in partisan tribes, which seriously impedes the development of leadership studies as a
scholarly field of study. In fact, Banks and colleagues (2018) report that construct redundancy
remains problematic for the leadership literature in general. Intellectually, in our view, the
situation can be likened to a pending state of bankruptcy. Whether the sad state of affairs is due to
inherent weaknesses in the theories or in their poor operationalizations or researchers simplifying
and distorting the original ideas, can be debated (Hannah et al., 2014). We see problems in all
these areas. Our position is to a large extent consistent with a broad critique of leadership studies
lacking rigor (Alvesson & Kärreman, 2016: Antonakis, 2017) and being highly uncritical
(Alvesson & Spicer, 2014; Learmonth & Morrill, 2017).
We find that the tremendous attention authentic leadership has received is the result of an
unreflective sense of excitement among leadership scholars and practitioners (Gardner et al.,
2011), as well as consultants in search of new attractive-sounding leadership theories to make
them into a lucrative enterprise (Gardiner, 2011), rather than an outcome of rigorous academic
scholarship. We disagree with authentic leadership enthusiasts who feel – or at least write – that
“there has been an extraordinary amount of progress” in the area since its inception (Avolio &
Walumbwa, 2014, p. 352). Table 1 below summarizes the main problem areas we have identified
and have chosen to study in detail in our paper.
Table 1: Main problem areas of authentic leadership
General problem area Description Argument
Foundations of
authentic leadership
The concept, while semantically
appealing, does not offer a solid
foundation for serious knowledge
There is unsolvable tension between job-based roles s
and the authentic self.
Authenticity has been conflated with honesty,
sincerity and other common words.
AL suffers problems related to a priori positive
AL is a reaction to a zeitgeist, result of the
popularization of the ancient term “authenticity”
and reflects a general disillusionment with business.
It responds to a human tendency to hang on to an
ideology where leadership is seen as the “savior”.
AL relies on a shaky and uninformed philosophical
Theory development Authentic leadership stands on a
shaky theoretical foundation.
AL represents a grouping of unrealistic ideals. It
AL can be seen as a mere moral washing of
transformational leadership.
The four constitutive elements of AL do not form a
solid theoretical construct and a logical whole.
Definitions of authentic leadership also include
outcomes – cause and effect are lumped together.
To measure AL is a mission impossible.
Authentic leadership
in practice
Modern workplaces are seldom
hospitable environments for
personal authenticity projects.
Authenticity is often unwanted at work and may
distract from what is required to align people and
get tasks done.
To lead authentically may be a subtle invitation not
only to moral behavior, but also to narcissism and
other pathologies.
Being authentic leads to personal vulnerability.
Sticking to one’s authentic self may be
accompanied by conservatism and inflexibility.
Authentic leadership
in relation to other
new genre leadership
Problems of authentic leadership
also apply to other areas.
Authentic leadership is just an example.
Many of its flaws are symptomatic of positive
leadership studies as a whole, even though there is
variation within the field.
Despite taking a critical perspective and showing how authentic leadership suffers from
fundamental shortcomings, we suggest ways to preserve what we find is useful in the study of
authenticity associated with leadership, followership and workplace relations in general. Some of
the issues that researchers of authentic leadership point to are valuable (Hannah et al., 2014). The
research community needs to start considering real-life contradictions and dilemmas instead of
being misled by ideology. We propose that authenticity is not a reflection of the noble leader
radiating the right qualities emerging from an inner essence unleashed for the benefit of solely
positive follower responses and organizational outcomes. Rather, it is a social phenomenon where
people are struggling with a variety of ideals and pressures, making authenticity a contested terrain
and a “cultural minefield” calling for insightfulness, negotiations, pragmatism and work with
organizational culture. The socially and historically constructed nature of authentic leadership
needs to be re-considered (Liu et al., 2017).
Leadership is about dealing with social norms and navigating in complicated and contested moral
terrains (Jackall, 1988), not just having and expressing the right leader disposition or one’s “true
self”. With this starting point, our study makes four contributions: (1) it reviews critically the
problematic assumptions and knowledge claims of authentic leadership theory, (2) it relates this
review to other related streams of positive leadership theory, (3) it gives substantive insights about
authenticity and moral issues in managerial and organizational life, and (4) it offers ideas for the
productive study of “authenticity” in leader-follower relations.
Our paper starts with an examination of the fragile foundation authentic leadership stands on. We
show how AL has rather little to do with the origin and use of the concept ‘authenticity’ in
philosophy and psychology and how it became popular in the contemporary social context
characterized by increased skepticism and cynicism. We then explore more basic theoretical
problems and address methodological flaws in authentic leadership research, The following part
considers authenticity in the “real” world of organizations, often offering an unwelcome habitat
for people trying to be authentic at work. We then discuss authentic leadership in relation to other
positive leadership theories, and finally suggest research ideas on how to study authenticity as it is
expressed or bypassed in organizational settings.
2. Authentic leadership and its less than solid foundation
In 2005, Leadership Quarterly published a highly influential special issue “Authentic Leadership
Development” (Volume 16, Issue 3), which helped define what the main stream scholarship on the
topic gradually became and signaled the emerging prominence of authentic leadership as a “hot”
academic field of study (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Ford & Harding 2011; Yammarino et al., 2008).
Authentic leadership continues the trend of so-called positive forms of leadership (Avolio &
Gardner, 2005), such as ethical, transformational, servant and spiritual leadership, with which, it is
claimed, it shares both similarities yet has distinct features making it a stand-alone “construct”
(Lemaine et al., 2018; Walumbwa et al., 2008), useful for understanding and improving how
leaders lead others, usually referred to as followers, in modern organizations. According to some,
the field now shows signs of maturation (Gardner et al., 2011); more empirical studies are being
published and the number of scholars working in this area is increasing. There are also voices
considering the recent retractions of studies on the topic published by some of the most prominent
proponents of the concept as a sign of maturity (Atwater et al., 2014), a claim others have
contested and interpreted instead as a signs of a field in crisis (Spoelstra, Butler & Delaney, 2016).
In the following pages, we are going to argue why the field of authentic leadership (AL) may not
be entering a phase of maturity but be standing on shaky foundations altogether. It should perhaps
better be seen as being in a permanent stage of immaturity – in terms of assumptions, theory,
knowledge claims and methods used. Our view is that to save what is good in the interest of
authenticity when it comes to workplace relations, serious efforts to reorient the field are needed.
2.1. The concept
We now discuss some general aspects that make “authentic leadership” a problematic field of
academic study. Authenticity is in itself a tricky concept in the sense of “know yourself” and “act
according to your true self” at least.
Tension between job-based roles and the authentic self
Striving towards knowing oneself requires significant, self-reflective, critical and continuous work
and struggle with the self as a whole. In this sense there is no distinct outside work-self and
professional-self. Indeed, most philosophers consider knowing oneself (and thus perhaps reaching
authenticity) as aspirational goals only few humans, if any, can ever reach. Leadership, another
significant but admittedly a more accessible challenge related to one’s professional role, requires
influencing others. Combining both, authenticity and leadership, in one concept becomes an
endeavor only heroes from mythological realm can ever aspire to successfully overcome.
The two terms do not combine well semantically either. Authenticity in the meaning it is framed in
the study of leadership is self-referential and self-developmental even though individual
authenticity projects inevitably develop in social contexts. There is no outside influence (positive
or negative) implied directly swaying one’s authenticity. In contrast, leadership by definition is a
process of social influence. For leaders to be considered as authentic, having personal core values
that should not be compromised is key – but the same is true for subordinates who have their own,
equally legitimate paths to authenticity they may want to pursue in life. Following instructions
from their manager may be only something they do as part of their job. Generally speaking,
adapting to social and political conventions and norms is a deviation from the genuinely personal
(Shamir & Eilam, 2005) because such adaptation would imply playing a role rather than being
oneself. Being an authentic leader means constantly striving to be oneself, which is assumed to be
reflected in the efforts to personify managerial work, something that seems to be common, but
mainly as an aspiration, claim or a belief (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2016). The opposite of these
circumstances is often regarded as an expression of bad, false or non-authentic management and
leadership (Fairhurst, 2007). Thus, on a superficial and common-sense level authentic leadership
may appear to make sense – but a critical scrutiny shows the opposite.
Conflation of authenticity with honesty, sincerity and other words of common usage
Even though there have been recent efforts to map the study of authenticity in the field of
organizational studies into sub-fields and categories (Lehman et al., 2018), the term “authenticity”
is used in so many different contexts that it may very well resist definition (Golomb, 2011, p. 1).
Even though there are many lexical variations of what is meant with “authentic” in organizational
studies leading to confusion, usually authenticity refers to that which is “real”, “genuine” or “true”
(Lehman et al. 2018). For instance, there is a significant difference if authenticity is understood to
refer to coherence between one’s internal values and external expressions, or if it is referred to as a
reflection of one’s conformity to the norms of a given social category. There seems to exist a
general consensus amongst scholars in the social and behavioral sciences that authentic entities,
whether they are individuals, collectives, or objects “are what they appear to be or are claimed to
be” (Lehman et al. 2018; Trilling, 1972, p. 92). As Lehman et al. (2018) point out, it becomes
paramount then to define the root of the authenticity attribution: a real, genuine or true what an
entity is? Authentic leadership theory points at an internal consistency: a person is an authentic
self in his or her leadership role. “Self” is a philosophical or psychological concept (see also
Kernis, 2003) whereas “role” is a response to external expectations. In our view, this attempt to
combine the authentication of the self with a role becomes a don quixotic task unless a person’s
occupation perfectly reflects his or her true self– an elusive situation for most of us working in
business or any other type of organization.
Authentic leadership theory tends to treat authenticity, honesty and sincerity as synonyms.
However, there seems to be somewhat of a consensus outside the field of management studies that
these concepts are fundamentally opposed and should not be regarded as equivalent or
synonymous. Regarding honesty and referring to Hegel, an honest individual fails at breaking
prevailing rules and is actually a hypocrite lacking real freedom because honesty is more about
living by the norms than breaking them. For Hegel, “honesty is a sham because consciousness
must be aware that the claim to impartiality and disinterestedness underpinning its claim to
honesty is contradicted by its activist social idealism” (Forster, 1998, p.345). Trilling’s (1972)
influential book Sincerity and Authenticity is frequently referred to as one of the root sources of
the concept of authentic leadership. Trilling makes important distinctions between sincerity and
authenticity. He maintains that authenticity is a more strenuous moral experience than sincerity, a
more exigent conception of the self and of what being true to it consists in, a wider reference to the
universe and man’s place in it, and a less acceptant and genial view of the social circumstances of
life. Whereas sincerity is judged by the extent to which the self is represented accurately and
honestly to others, authenticity refers to the extent to which one is true to the self. Hence,
sincerity can in principle be objectively tested—for example, by checking whether a person’s
outward behavior is consistent with public declarations. “Sincere” in this sense is synonymous
with “true” and “honest; however, “authentic” is a hard-to assess continuous process internal to
each individual rarely if ever fully understood even by individuals themselves. Hence by
definition, authenticity is hidden and does not lend itself to external assessment (Golomb, 2012)
and definitively, as we will show, by questionnaires to subordinates (or others).
Problems with positive framing
Authentic leadership is supposed to lead to all kinds of positive outcomes. Followers are assumed
to exert greater effort, engage in organizational citizenship, experience improved attitudes and
mind-sets, increased trust, positive emotions, well-being, higher motivation, engagement, more
satisfaction, greater empowerment, moral development and improved well-being and increases in
psychological capital (claims made by various authors, summarized by e.g., Caza & Jackson 2011,
p. 355, with no signs of irony). In short AL promises dramatic benefits. Advocates have problems
coming up with disadvantages. Caza & Jackson (2011), for example, only mention vaguely that
authentic leadership may not always be beneficial and that it may be possible to be “too authentic”
(p. 361).
Imagine framing things differently. We can propose “realistic leadership” with four “anti-AL” (or
at least quite far from it) elements: A leader a) focused on tasks and the social world rather than
preoccupied with self, b) being diplomatic and considering the needs and wants of others rather
than eager to express the self, c) using sound self-defensive mechanisms at times avoiding
considering and being overly sensitive to the opinions of others, and not being over-focused on
feedback realizing that it is always flawed, d) giving priority to balancing and questioning one’s
internal needs/wants/beliefs to regulate, for instance, narcissistic or abusive impulses over
balancing one’s self in relation to others, and e) keeping one’s own moral stances associated with
religion, politics, environmental concerns, rule-following and political correctness out of the
situation and focusing on the needs and requirements of key groups (like superiors, subordinates
and customers). It is not unlikely that studies adopting this conceptualization would show a
correlation between responses and many positive outcomes. One could even imagine that the same
people that would link AL with job satisfaction, trust, extra effort and so forth would do so with
virtues that are close to the opposite, given the “right”, positive framing, in conceptualizations as
well as measurements.
2.2. The origins
To understand the interest in authentic leadership in particular (and to some extent in positive
leadership studies more broadly), we need to consider the contemporary social and business
context, philosophical roots of the theories (or at least references given to these roots) and the
development of leadership thinking. No doubt, there are scholars with a genuine interest in
furthering knowledge and the want to have something new to say. But there are also signs of a
thirst for novelty framed as theoretical breakthroughs and the need to keep the large community of
leadership scholars with an inclination towards verification and replication rather than more
imaginative approaches to scholarship busy (see also Antonakis, 2017). We are now briefly going
to discuss some factors that influenced the birth of authentic leadership.
The general disillusionment
The theoretical interest in authentic leadership was spurred by deep-rooted concerns about the
ethical conduct of today’s leaders that led to corporate scandals, widely spread public mistrust in
big business in particular, and a financial crisis with global implications. In this context we see
signs of an increase of disillusionment and cynicism (Alvesson, 2013; Fleming & Spicer, 2003;
Naus et al., 2009). Historically, this type of zeitgeist is a terrain ripe for the rise of authenticity as a
concern or as an identity project for intellectuals and business elites. In the words of Golomb
(2011, p. xii) as he talks about post-modernism and Nietzschean terms “twilight of the idols” and
the “death of God” as a reaction to a decline in the powerful and long-enduring ethos of
objectivity, rationality and enlightenment, the quest for authenticity becomes especially
pronounced in extreme situations that include not only personal and external, but also significant
social, economic and historical crisis.
Leadership as the savior
Signs of us living in an increasingly fake world are endless. There is frequent talk about “business
bullshit”, nice-sounding but meaningless talk (Spicer, 2018), as well as featherbedding (creating
artificial jobs for partisan interest) and goldbricking (avoiding work). Another expression is
“empty labor” or “pseudo-work”, people being at work without doing anything productive, but
just pretending to work, some extent reflecting a sense of work not being meaningful (Normark &
Jensen, 2018; Paulsen, 2014). These types of discourses affect perceptions and ideas about
leadership and provide a context for the launching of simple recipes against all this misery, one
prominent example being authentic leadership. AL implies, vaguely referring to a concern for the
social good, that managers and others supposed to do leadership are true to themselves and act
with a strong sense of morality. One could perhaps argue that senior managers and others doing
“leadership” are responsible for many of the perceived imperfections and contemporary ill-doings,
whereas people in the leadership industry – with a vested academic or business interest – are more
inclined to see leadership, at least of the “right type”, as the solution to problems. There is a rapid
increase of texts including references to both corruption and authentic leadership (Wilson, 2013),
the idea being that if only managers would be or become authentic then all kinds of positive
outcomes will appear, including trust. Avolio and Walumbwa (2014) go as far as to advertising that
“the world simply can’t wait any longer for more authentic leaders and leadership” (p. 353). AL is
then the great savior – reflecting an evergreen in leadership studies about the great leader doing
the right thing and solving all or most problems.
Popularization of the concept ‘authenticity’
The concept of authentic leadership was first made popular by well-known leadership authors
from business practice and consultancy who called for a new type of genuine and values-based
leadership (Gardner et al., 2011) as an antidote to corporate malfeasance. However, echoing
Gardiner (2011), these original calls for leaders to have more integrity, although laudable per se,
seem to have become mixed up with stories of individual success. Business is an awkward
companion of the millennial philosophical question of morality and authenticity. The primary
purpose of any business is to make that business thrive, not to exist solely for the public good or as
platforms for self-expression for corporate leaders. Indeed, according to Cooper and colleagues
(2005), authentic leadership is not a way to mend corporate malfeasance.
Beyond the rather narrow field of leadership studies, authenticity is an increasingly popular topic
in a number of fields from psychology to marketing to sociology to management. As Lehman and
colleagues (2018) put it, “one does not have to look far today to find self-help books focused on
the ‘true self’, organizations touting themselves as ‘authentic’, and ongoing debates about who
and what should be called ‘real’ versus ‘fake’. For Potter (2010), authenticity is “one of the most
powerful movements in contemporary life”. It may less reflect the “existence” of it, but rather
increasing impossibilities of living an authentic life, where so many forces regulate us in terms of
being adaptive to others and live up to the templates (buy into corporate visions, political
correctness, have a personal brand, develop life styles, follow fashions, do the right impression
management, convey an impressive appearance in social media, etc.) (Alvesson, 2013). The norm
of being an “authentic leader” may be part of this inauthenticity: providing an idealized template
for how one should be that appeals to fantasies more than reality.
2.3. The philosophical foundation
When introducing the notion of authentic leadership, authors typically trace the philosophical
foundations of the concept to classical and 20th century continental philosophy. The works of
Socrates, Aristoteles, Sartre, Ricoeur and Heidegger, for instance, are cited. However, authentic
leadership scholars so far have failed to explore the meaning these influential thinkers attach to
authenticity in any depth and how this meaning may or may not be related to the notion of
leadership. The Socratic maxim that an “unexamined life is not worth living” (see Ricoeur, 1986)
is a recommendation to live a philosophical life, to engage in constant self-exploration, to help
men to raise above beasts in an attempt to reach towards a morally worthy existence – the type of
spiritual practice that is in a different realm altogether from executing mundane organizational
tasks one engages in to make a living, such as salary negotiations, KPIs, sales calls, budgeting,
dealing with market fluctuations, lay-off rounds and the messy swamp everyday organizational life
is in general. When it comes to 20th century existentialists, post-modernists and
phenomenologists, authenticity is a core concept in their thinking. It represents an uneasy
transition from objective sincerity (alignment of the self or compliance with norms) to personal
authenticity that expresses, among other things, revolt against the traditional conception of truth
and the ideal of sincerity (Golomb, 2011). A struggle for authenticity reflects an individual’s
innermost desire to break free from rules of society, with no prescribed intentionality to make
others follow or become “converts”.
Heidegger (1927/1996) argues that for the most part, we live inauthentic lives because the
authentic self is subsumed by the activities of our everyday, inauthentic self. The reason why
inauthentic, "the they" self, is inauthentic is because it spends its time fitting in with the desires of
others (see also Gardiner, 2011). Because authenticity implies constant movement, self-
transcendence and self-creation, identifying an authentic person or even describing what
authenticity is results impossible (Golomb, 2011). Authors studying the theme of authenticity,
typically recur to fictional characters whose troubled stories depict struggles they endure in their
quest to become authentic. Their typical fate is marginalization, outsidership, agony, struggle with
faith, public ridicule or even death. These characters can be religious leaders expressing
unwavering faith in a Deity (Biblical Abraham and Moses, for instance), Nietzsche’s Zarathustra
who is the prototype of the Ubermensch or the unattainable superior human being, or the worldlier
Don Quixote by Cervantes whose life’s journey takes him from one mishap to another, or the
character Mersault in Camus’ novel Stranger whose unwavering authenticity leads him to the
guillotine. In any case, their stories are hardly inspirational for leadership enthusiasts in a more
material realm of human existence. An often-heard point in philosophical debates about
authenticity is that the distinction between the authentic self and the socially formed self is
implausible to begin with: what makes humans human is our bonds to others—these bonds shape
who we are. When we uphold the claim of being authentic, we run the risk of self-deception in
thinking that our core values are truly our own or that we can avoid role-playing in social life
(Spoelstra, 2018).
In this light, we concur with Gardiner (2011) in that leadership scholars seem to use these
philosophers simply as mere “sound bites” to give their empirical claims more purely cosmetic
theoretical weight. This type of conceptual maneuvering has very little to do with serious
knowledge work. It is unlikely that an individual’s (leader or any other kind) authentic self, once
identified, would be aligned with the demands of business life and that person would be able to
transform others to align their true selves in a way compatible with a firm’s goals as well. Even if
that was the case, the whole concept of authenticity would dissipate as conforming clones would
result – an antithesis of what being authentic is in the sense implied in the leadership literature.
3. Shaky theory development
Leadership studies seem to be inclined to follow trends and fashions and be heavily reliant on
prevailing dominant ideologies rather than genuine theoretical breakthroughs. Theories come,
linger and go just as fads, leaving an endless smorgasbord of leadership theory and literature that
is never falsified in their wake (see also Spoelstra et al. 2016). In this section our focus is on the
academic field of study of authentic leadership.
3.1. Conceptualization and definition
In their 2005 editorial, Avolio and Gardner (2005) gave a promising initial statement to counter
fashion-following and to deliver a more nuanced, theoretically solid and empirically grounded
leadership theory based on the idea of authenticity:
We have found that over the last 100 years, most leadership theories have been originated without
a focus on the essential core processes that result in the development of leadership that would be
characterized by those models, e.g., a path-goal leader. As a consequence, there has typically been
no attention to development or we find post hoc conceptualizations and testing with little rigor. We
have chosen the opposite approach and conceived of the model of authentic leadership starting
with and integrating throughout our conceptualization of the dynamic process of development in
context. (Avolio & Gardner 2005, p. 317)
Despite a number of original authors highlighting the relational, dynamic, processual,
developmental, power-sensitive and contextual nature of the phenomenon, these good intentions
have later been largely replaced by static, entity-oriented, fixed and de-contextualized
conceptualizations and empirical studies. Let’s examine the definition Walumbwa and colleagues
(2008) propose to facilitate a rigorous study of authentic leadership. A scrutiny is particularly
important given that the ALQ scale they developed and that is widely used in empirical studies to
assess to what degree a person is authentic or not, is based on this definition:
We define authentic leadership as a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both
positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater a) self-
awareness, b) an internalized moral perspective, c) balanced processing of information, and d)
relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-
development. (Walumbwa et al., 2008, p. 94),
This definition, with small modifications, is based on Kernis’ (2003) work on “optimal self-
esteem” to which he included authenticity that he characterized as the “unobstructed operation of
one’s true, or core, self in one’s daily enterprise”. There is nothing in this conceptualization
borrowed from the field of psychology that suggests that the construct would be of use in
processes of social influence, such as leadership, although it may lead to individual level
outcomes, such as well-being, irrespective if the person is a “leader” or not (Luthans & Avolio,
2003). One could ask why not just use the original concept and scale in its original meaning?
Kernis’ definition is also in stark contrast to the philosophical underpinnings authentic leadership
is said to be standing on as we discussed earlier and that advocates of authentic leadership also
refer to. These underpinnings – and most observers of organizational reality – object to any idea of
one’s true or core self in unobstructed operation because humans are always products of the
contexts they, in existentialist terms, are “thrown into” at birth. Also, from a philosophical
standpoint, accessing one’s true self and applying it in daily enterprise in a business context, being
truly consistent with who one really is, may not be much more than an elusive ideal. The various
individual elements in the definition above are also problematic. Let’s take a closer look at these.
Self-awareness. Sceptics tend to point at the self not being unitary and consistent, but multiple,
socially contingent, dynamic and shifting (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2013; Ibarra, 2015).
According to Jopling (2002) self-knowledge is something that can only be had by working at it. It
is an achievement and not a given. Being oneself is thus rarely unambiguous (Shotter & Gergen,
1989). Managers’ attempts to exercise authentic leadership are filled with conflict because it
involves contradictory identity ideals (Nyberg & Sveningsson, 2014). Which self? Is a good
question. Rather than to see the self as a ”clearly defined, well-bounded entity”, it is better to
understand it as fluid work in progress formed in relationships (Ladkin & Spiller, 2013, p. 2) and
over time with new job tasks and circumstances (Alvesson & Robertson, 2016; Ibarra, 2015).
People are quite different in different contexts (Price & Bouffard, 1974), and situations (Mischel,
1977). Focusing on finding out about the true self in one’s organizational role may not be a
productive way of spending one’s time.
Of course, learning about one’s leadership behavior through 360 degrees feedback, working with
the Johari window or other modes of feedback seeking behavior (e.g. Luft & Ingham, 1955;
Ashford, 1986) may be fruitful, but may be more relevant if it targets leadership behavior and
other forms of workplace acting rather than the self. Here, the link to “authenticity” is, at best,
Relational transparency is also tricky, partly because the self to be transparently expressed in
interactions and relations is not unitary, but multiple and situationally constructed. People are not
necessarily like chameleons – although some may ”authentically” be very socially sensitive,
responsive and eager to get along – but only that we are social beings, not packages of
psychological essential traits, in particular in work contexts, where relations are typically not of
our own choosing. Most professionally and socially successful people adapt to circumstances and
to the people around them and adjust their behavior. Conventions and norms prevail, and much
acting is based on roles, calling for the self being moved to the backstage, whereas “customer
service smiling”, performance of management or behaving in line with sex, age norms and
hierarchical position are expected at workplaces. In addition, interactions are seldom transparent,
and people involved tend to perceive and evaluate the “transparencies” based on their frameworks,
values, emotions and cognitive limitations. Managers and subordinates often assess their
relationship in different, inconsistent ways. Research on leader–member exchange indicates a
rather low correlation of how the relationship is assessed (Cogliser et al., 2009; Erdogan & Bauer,
2014; Gerstner & Day, 1997). Different views may be a problem solvable by theories originating
in positive organizational scholarship emphasizing harmony and alignment but it may be also a
realistic assessment of social life in all its imperfections and ambiguities and not seen as fixable
through, for instance, authentic leadership. With “too much” authenticity, workplace climate may
be harmed, and conflicts emerge and escalate.
Balanced processing. Balanced processing is per definition right, at least better than “unbalanced”
processing. But in practice balanced processing is not easy. Close up studies indicate that giving
feedback is very complicated, replete with politics, social considerations and self-serving bias. It is
hard to know how to assess someone, how to formulate and communicate precise feedback, and
how to interpret it, in particular when feedback concerns complicated issues and is negative
(Alvesson & Kärreman, 2007; Tourish 2013). Of course, balanced processing sounds appealing,
but the idea of an objective balancing act is quite unrealistic. Valuing feedback from others may
facilitate other-directiveness (Riesman et al., 1950), where we are very sensitive to and try to adapt
to the views of others, hardly in line with authenticity.
An internalized moral perspective. There are different moralities in business and working life and
ethics easily become relativistic (Skrutkowski, 2017). A concern for the common good is fine, but
which common good? And good for whom? Echoing philosophical differences between
utilitarianism and deontological ethics, do noble ends benefiting the majority justify the means --
or does doing good also imply the imperative of having good intentions and noble moral values?
Companies are sites for the clashing of different moral ideals (Jackall, 1988). Some authors say
that “moral” is in the eyes of the followers (Hannah et al., 2014), but most of the literature
indicates loosely a more absolute type of moral good, sidestepping the likelihood of varied views
on morals. Yet, organizations are often full of diverse moralities: doing good for owners, for
subordinates, for colleagues, for customers, for the planet, for taxpayers, or for specific interest
groups? One moral code may be free and open speech, another avoiding anything that may be
perceived as hurtful or politically incorrect for anyone. Human history is full of “altruistic”
motives where people have killed others for the sake of the country, the king, the tribe, the ethnic
group, the political ideology and so forth. Also, loyal organizational members may be committed
to “altruistic ill-doings”, like cheating and corruption for the benefits of the organization and
perhaps its survival (Schwartz, 1987). As most people having worked in organizations would
agree (and using the word “authenticity” in its more common language form) there are also those
who may be characterized as authentic jerks, as well as managers whose “authentic” engagement
in decision making may do more harm than good, or solve surface problems only to create bigger
ones underneath (Tourish & Robson, 2006).
3.2 Authentic leadership as moral washing of transformational leadership
Authentic leadership is not only an effect of peculiar and far-fetched jumps from claimed
philosophical and psychological sources of inspiration, but also has an origin within the more
related, not to say crowded terrain of leadership studies. In particular, it needs to be understood in
relationship to transformational leadership. For some time the most prominent theory of heroic
leadership was (and possibly still is) transformational leadership (TFL). There are different views
of what TFL includes (Sashkin, 2004), but typically individualized consideration, intellectual
stimulation, idealized influence (charisma) and inspiration are seen as ingredients. The advocates
of transformational leadership assume that the so-called leader has significant influence on
followers’ self-confidence, enthusiasm, identification with the group/organization and voluntary
compliance. However, charisma – a key component of transformational leadership – is a
potentially dangerous force, because followers become disinclined to think for themselves.
Powerful leaders may create catastrophes as much as triumphs.
Proponents of transformational leadership, such as Bass & Steidlmeier (1999) argue that to be
truly transformational, leadership must be grounded in moral foundations to avoid the dark side of
charismatic leaders. According to Parry & Bryman (2006, p. 453), by distinguishing between
authentic-transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership they have thus partly rectified
the problem of insufficient attention to the negative aspects of transformational leadership in its
original formulation. Truly transformational leadership is not a matter of behavior per se, but
rather contrasting the noble respectively murky motives driving the leader. The authentic
transformational leader focuses on universal values, addresses real threats and develops followers
into leaders, whereas the pseudo transformational leader highlights “our” values against “their”
values, manufactures crises where there are none and develops submissive disciples (Bass &
Steidlmeier, 1999). Authentic transformational leaders have high moral character, “admirable
values” and use ethical means (Caza & Jackson, 2011. p. 353). Some may find this distinction
reassuring, but others could say that by just inserting “authenticity” into the definition there is a
safe-sounding formula for a powerful but good leadership, but reflecting an arbitrary and useless
distinction. Here, another warning is in order. We as scholars should ensure we use words and
terms for what they were intended, and not reinvent or repackage them to reify a particular
normative position or ideology. As per dictionary definitions, the word “authentic” can be traced to
the Latin authenticus and Greek authentikos, simply meaning “principal” or “genuine”, with no
relation whatsoever to “inherently good” or “moral”.
It is possible to view transformational and authentic leadership as very different (Wilson, 2013)
with authentic leadership being much more modest and egalitarian, more inspirational than
transformational and focusing on the self of the leader more than on the direct influencing of
followers. Yet many others see authentic leadership as strongly overlapping with transformational
leadership. This overlap can be seen in the original conceptualizations of authentic leadership
where the difference between the two is mainly that of scope and nuance (Avolio & Gardner,
2005, p. 323; Walumbwa et al., 2008, p.102). Banks and colleagues (2016) for example point at
the partial redundancy between the two concepts.
According to Sidani & Rowe (2018), the claimed effects of AL and TFL are very similar (see also
Lemaine et al., 2018 on common characteristics and common outcomes). One way of
understanding authentic leadership is that of it being introduced as a new leadership theory, but in
reality, being more of a moral washing of the older concept of transformational leadership. By
severing the words “morality” and “authenticity” from their millennial roots and inherent
conceptual complexity and pasting them onto a new leadership concept, the “good” in
transformational leadership was rather arbitrarily coupled with “good-doing” and respectively
disassociated from “bad-doing” leaders. With this conceptual maneuvering artificially simplifying
the inherently complex and adhering to ideology rather than serious effort to understand social
relations at work, the area of “authentic leadership” has developed into its own area of hope-based
rather than serious scholarly inquiry promising a superior type of leadership.
3.3. Measurement of authentic leadership – A mission impossible
For scholars of authenticity from Kierkegaard, Camus and Sartre to Nietzsche, the notion
“authenticity” signifies something beyond the domain of objective language. It is different from
the notions of sincerity and honesty that have to do with attributes to which language can refer
directly … but any positive definition of authenticity would be self-nullifying (Golomb, 2011, p.
1). Thus, although sincerity could lend itself to objective assessment, authenticity does not. How
to study authenticity then when authenticity is virtually unknowable? How can we observe, let
alone measure, that a person is true to himself or herself when this quality tends to be out of reach
even to individuals themselves? Research and consultancy on authentic leadership is typically
about subordinates attributing authenticity scores to leaders or leaders assessing themselves.
Whether people really are true to themselves is not easy to know. A person good at impression
management may probably score high on other-assessed authenticity, whereas a person truly
“authentic” may not be seen as such but bad in playing the leader role (Ibarra, 2015). This obvious
consideration is not addressed much by authentic leadership advocates. Let us take a closer look.
Just like with other forms of positive leadership studies, authentic leadership scholars have a
strong belief in numbers and the measurability of the valuable essence “authenticity” and its
effects. However, it is very difficult to objectively study phenomena that are unmeasurable by
definition.. Recognizing the self-referential nature of authenticity is critical to understanding the
concept. That is, in contrast to sincerity, authenticity does not involve any explicit consideration of
others; instead, the authentic self is seen as existing wholly by the laws of its own being (Erickson,
1995, p.125). Thus, authenticity (and let alone the even more complicated construct of authentic
leadership), can neither be externally assessed nor experimentally manipulated. Similarly, its
causal effects on other variables cannot be readily estimated. In our view, scarce resources should
be used for much more productive purposes than for training of authentic leaders (or followers),
and any corporate policies to hire or evaluate managers based on authentic leadership assessments,
should be revised.
Cooper and colleagues (2005) point out that an initial conceptualization of AL was multi-
dimensional. It contained elements from diverse domains—traits, states, behaviors, contexts, and
attributions. Moreover, the observers or perspectives involved vary from the leader, to followers
(at various distances), to possibly additional audiences. They also expressed concern that authentic
leadership is posited to operate at the individual, team, and organizational levels, among others.
Measurement difficulties that arise from the adoption of such broad definitions and levels of
analysis are unavoidable. In our view these authors are absolutely correct in that challenging
measurement and other methodological issues lie ahead, but in our view that is what would be
required to fully understand what constitutes authentic leadership development (Avolio & Gardner,
In fact, the nature of authenticity is such that it cannot be measured at all. The idea of others
“knowing” an individual’s authenticity introduces a basic contradiction between the phenomenon
and the way it is studied. But even if we disregarded the problem of others’ being able to assess
authenticity and would accept to focus our studies on followers’ perception of leader authenticity
(i.e., not on leader authenticity per se, as defined by authenticity scholars) there are fundamental
difficulties. The ALQ questions (as in Walumbwa et al., 2008, p.121) are broadly as follows.
1. Seeks feedback to improve interactions with others.
2. Accurately describes how others view his or her capabilities.
Relational Transparency
3. Says exactly what he or she means.
4. Is willing to admit mistakes when they are made.
Internalized Moral Perspective
5. Demonstrates beliefs that are consistent with actions.
6. Makes decisions based on his/her core beliefs.
Balanced Processing
7. Solicits views that challenge his or her deeply held positions.
8. Listens carefully to different points of view before coming to conclusions.
One could ask what have these questions to do with authenticity? Most questions concern the
perceptions of others about social responsiveness and what is viewed as acceptable social
behavior. One could say that the questionnaire almost tries to measure the opposite of authenticity.
If we look at the various statements, agreements or disagreements contain possibly multiple
meanings. A person seeking feedback to improve interactions with others may do so to increase
the likelihood of having the optimal influencing or manipulation effect, for example, to craft a
message to be optimally persuasive. Saying exactly what one means may be less about
relationality than narcissism and disregard of context and others. Demonstrating beliefs that are
consistent with actions indicates a simple relationship between beliefs and actions as if the latter
were a direct outcome of beliefs rather than a multitude of considerations and forces, including
organizational contingencies: corporate policy, superiors’ requests, corporate culture guidelines,
customer demands, the views of subordinates and so forth. Inconsistency between beliefs and
actions is unavoidable, in order to convey an impression of such consistency would call for a low
or moderate level of relational transparency. Taken the views of others carefully into account
sounds good, but it is difficult to see what sensitivity for feedback has to do with authenticity.
Arguably, one can practice participative leadership without being strongly feedback-seeking,
saying exactly what one means or wanting to be consistent in beliefs/action. Actually, being into
participation would mean an inclination to sometimes follow the views of others as much or more
as one’s own beliefs. There is tension between participation and being sensitive to the views of
others about self and being authentic.
It is thus very difficult to see any clear link between the ALQ and the ideas of authentic leadership
it is supposed to refer to. ALQ aims to measure perceptions of feedback-interest, truth-
speaking/lack of diplomatic skills, consistent/in-flexible behavior and participation; a set of
diverse and not particular authenticity-related phenomena.
3.4. Other drawbacks
There are many other fundamental problems with the idea of authentic leadership, some of which
have been addressed in the literature, either as general problems with contemporary versions of
leadership studies or as distinct to authentic leadership. Here we mainly deal with authentic
leadership, but most of these issues are common for leadership studies in general (for other critical
reviews, see e.g., Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2013; Ladkin & Spiller, 2013; Nyberg & Sveningsson,
2014 and Sidani & Rowe, 2018).
Many definitions of authentic leadership also include outcomes. This is a result of what
MacKenzie (2003) refers to as poor construct conceptualization and failure to adequately specify
the conceptual meaning of the study’s focal constructs. Cause and effect are lumped together. This
is common for much leadership studies in general, for instance. on creativity (Hughes et al., 2018)
and transformational leadership (Yukl, 1999). Such lumping violates any reasonable way of using
concepts in research (Sidani & Rowe, 2018). It also leads to inbuilt ”proofs” that authentic
leadership leads to positive outcomes. In fact, the value-based and moral behavior models of
leadership in general tend to correlate heavily with constructs traditionally examined as outcome
variables (e.g., trust, LMX, justice) and thus are carriers of endogeneity bias (Banks et al., 2018).
Given how the theory is formulated it seems almost impossible that not good outcomes would be
produced or reported: (perceived) self-awareness is better than being self-unaware, honesty is
better than fake acting, a balanced view of relations is better than a biased view, and decent moral
values are appreciated more than indecent selfishness and immorality. If one assesses one’s
manager as high on authenticity, one is likely to respond with high indicators on such outcomes as
good efforts, trust, well-being or something else positive as well. There does not seem to be any
need to study AL or the claimed outcomes: how people respond is more or less obvious (although
outcomes of empirical studies are always uncertain, as respondents may find questions ambiguous
and even totally misunderstand them). The problem is that the framing – and the normative
element – produce a strongly loaded response inclination, far from being a truly open study
(Sidani & Rowe, 2018). Rather than sound reasoning and serious empirical studies we find
tautologies: results are given in definitions but are then repeated as evidence. Tautologies are
common in “positive” leadership studies (Alvesson, 1996; Antonakis et al, 2016; Van Knippenberg
& Sitkin, 2013). Moreover, and as it is the case of authentic leadership, an overreliance on survey
measures, cross-sectional designs, and single source data, and an almost complete lack of causally
identified studies, qualitative studies other than in the positivist tradition (Gardner et al., 2011),
limit the possibility to develop the field further through in-depth understandings, either through
longitudinal or (field) experimental research.
Authentic leadership represents a problematic mixture of different and possibly unrelated ideals.
The four elements the concept is made of are seen as coming together in the form of “authentic
leadership” as something distinctive and unique, but there is no reason to assume that they hang
together and form a concept or a construct (see also MacKenzie 2003). Self-knowledge does not
necessarily mean acting in a genuine way, and a person may be just good at controlling or
concealing his or her weaknesses – either for one’s own sake or the benefit of others (that could be
protected from bad temper, intolerance or other “non-positive” inclinations). Caring about how
others see one’s self or being essentially good (having an internalized moral perspective) may also
be unrelated. A person eager to be authentic may be fairly indifferent to views of how others see
her or him: “authentic leaders thus make moral judgments freely and independently, without
concern for potentially opposing normative or external social pressures” (Lemoine et al., 2018).
In particular the connection between self-knowledge and being moral strikes as unrelated. One
could assume that a person with a strong moral compass is not that concerned about self, relational
transparency or balanced processing. Some advocates of authentic leadership leave morality out of
the picture (Sidani & Rowe, 2018), whereas others define AL as a moral approach to leadership
(Lemoine et al., 2018). Can one be authentic and/or engage in AL without being moral? It is a
matter of definition, but many people that appear to be genuinely authentic in many respects may
have no overall moral purpose (Eilam & Shamir, 2013; Golomb, 2011). Empirically, it may be the
case that the virtues proposed by authentic leadership theory are unrelated, although it is not
impossible that people’s perceptions (and in particular their questionnaire-filling) may suggest
otherwise as there is an inclination to want to link good things with other good things thus
avoiding cognitive dissonance. Empirical “evidence” of elements of authentic leadership hanging
together may thus be misleading.
It is virtually impossible to live up to the requirements of authenticity in leadership, whatever
precise meaning the concept is supposed to carry, unless authenticity is seen in a ”weak” way, that
is, that a person with some self-knowledge and some sense of moral is more appreciated than an
immoral person with a very bad sense of self. Very few people score consistently high in most
respects and hardly any in all, at least not all or most of the time under all circumstances. In
particular in business life and in large complex organizations the environment is often not friendly
for the expression of authenticity. The latter may be an espoused value, and no doubt many fill in
questionnaires in such a way that they themselves or their well-liked managers may appear as
authentic, but such questionnaire-filling does not say much. The espoused and the enacted often
diverge. In a way there is in most samples probably no authentic leadership to study, real people in
real situations tend to fall short of the heavy burden being authentic imposes. To put it harshly,
authentic, morally good leadership may not exist, at least not in most business organizations
among senior people being reasonably well adjusted to managerial life and its specific cultural
rules (Jackall, 1988).
The above is not to say that there are no situations, domains and relationships where there are
examples of self-awareness, straight exposure of a self, receptiveness for feedback and an explicit
moral stance. But situational authenticity – indicators of something authentic leadership-like in
specific moments in the eyes of specific people (with a specific notion of morality) - is very
different from authentic leadership as a stable essence, consistent orientation and set of observable
4. Authenticity in organizational settings
Authentic leadership or authenticity in general is often unwanted. It is great of course when a
person with only or mainly what others think are good qualities express these, but most people
have many less sympathetic “authentic” orientations, for example, bad temper, poor social skills,
neurotic and narcissistic orientations, intolerance, non-mainstream political or religious
orientations, problems with the other sex, a dislike for certain professions or functions and other
views that make collaboration difficult if these come out in full bloom. (Of course, some of these
qualities may be applauded and lead to positive responses from certain followers, e.g. sharing
homophobic, sexist or nationalist inclinations may be applauded in a specific setting as part of a
possible authenticity). Some forms of what some may experience as sexual harassment or bullying
may be seen as expressions of authenticity. A senior person exhibiting uncertainty and anxiety
about the job may trigger negative responses from subordinates, as Ibarra (2015) shows. Too much
transparency is not necessarily welcomed. Also, many moral views are not so easy to stick to and
express. At many workplaces it may be wise to hold back strong convictions associated with being
a vegan, a militant environmentalist, a very religious Muslim, or strongly favoring (or not
favoring) gender equality. Organizations are often sites for ethical closure, that is, more or less
systematic denials of the application of moral vocabulary and, thus, informed ethical judgment
(Jackall, 1988; Kärreman & Alvesson, 2010).
Related to dominating norms, being authentic may be an effective career-stopper in most
organizational settings. Authenticity is sometimes likely to create social problems and lead to
suspicion. A person may be trustworthy in terms of being transparent and predictable and having a
clear morality, but that may also be seen as source of lack of trust in a work and business setting.
Trust may require being perceived as flexible, willing to comply and make compromises, fulfill
role requirements and job expectations as well as being loyal with the in-group rather than
insisting on being true to self and having a strict moral conviction and agenda (Jackall, 1988).
Even if being highly moral is respected, people may feel that the organization is not the right place
to express personal authenticity and morality. As Jackall writes, “adeptness at inconsistency,
without moral uneasiness, is essential for executive success” and cites a senior manager saying
that “people up high … are able to speak out of both sides of their mouth without missing one
step” (p. 160).
The ideal of being an authentic leader may invite and reinforce narcissism. A strong
preoccupation with oneself and one’s connection to and expression of an elusive true self may be
problematic in a social setting where getting organizational tasks done with others is or should be
the primary preoccupation. A task-orientation and rallying the troops behind common goals calls
for explicit efforts towards self-scrutiny, social sensitivity and downplaying possible narcissistic
inclinations, and everything else in terms of personal meaning and relevance of existence to self.
Of course, AL (and other “new genre” types of leadership) may be seen as not replacing but
adding to or being combined with instrumental, transaction, task-focused work (Hannah et al.,
2014), but if taken seriously AL is not just a supplementary smoothener to a wide set of other
leadership orientations and behaviors. AL calls for time, energy, focus and priorities. All
leadership ideals and behaviors are to some extent at the expense of something else. An authentic
person focusing highly on self-awareness – key in AL according to for example, Lemaine and
colleagues (2018) – may put him or herself in the center of the universe.
Being authentic also means making oneself vulnerable. Being genuine at work and placing one’s
self and morality – rather than job role and work contingencies – in the center means that
everything tends to reflect back on the self and become personal. The role can protect people –
sometimes of course in a negative way as people take less responsibility for their doings but often
it also takes some of the pressure of an overexposed self away. Leadership involves many painful
activities: sanctioning people, refusing advantages and privileges, rewarding some employees
below average, giving unwanted work tasks, asking employees to comply with management or
customer demands even if they find them unreasonable, and so on. If one can see all these tasks as
part of the role and less as an expression of one’s true self, the vulnerability may be reduced.
Sennett (1977) points at how a culture of self has meant that the distance and protection
accomplished by roles have lost significance, fueling narcissistic vulnerability. If the self is all the
time present and in focus, everything becomes very personally sensitive. Bureaucracy is often
favored, as it makes things impersonal and thus easier for people to cope with.
Adhering to authentic leadership as it is conceptualized is also a source of conservatism and
inflexibility. Being true to one’s values is perhaps fine in a specific setting but changing
circumstances or starting a new job may call for significant revisions and developments of one’s
sense of self and the embracing of other values and priorities. As Ibarra (2015) writes, “authentic
leadership can be problematic”. For example, the option of adhering to one “true self” flies in the
face of much research on how people evolve with experience, discovering facets of themselves
they would never have unearthed through introspection alone. And being utterly transparent—
disclosing every single thought and feeling—is both unrealistic and risky (Ibarra, 2015, p. 55).
People at workplaces seldom find a perfect match between who they think they are and job
requirements. With development and new tasks there are often requirements to learn and change.
If a person has got a job and social relations that is in line with a true self, it may not last. Most
people want to progress and there will always be new people as superiors, colleagues and
subordinates calling for constant, sometimes radical adaptations to a variety of demands and thus
sometimes revisions of the self. These may be framed as learning opportunities people take as
such – or not (Ibarra, 2015).
Authenticity is contingent on power relations and hierarchies. What rank one occupies in the
corporate hierarchy matters when it comes to a leader’s possibility to express his or her true self at
work. A WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) owner/co-founder of a fast-expanding American
technology firm has probably more degrees of freedom and agency than a newly hired young
Asian female section manager in the subsidiary of the same firm in Sub-Saharan Africa. Gardiner
(2011) considers the discourse of authentic leadership as deeply problematic because it fails to
consider power inequities and how social and historical circumstances affect a person’s ability to
be a leader. Authenticity manifests itself differently depending upon a person’s place in the world,
and institutional biases adversely affect who gets access to leadership roles in the first place and
influences a person’s ability to take up space in this world. Eagly (2005) refers to boundary
conditions of authentic leadership when it comes to a leader’s capability to establish relational
authenticity in particular. In cases where the leader belongs to a minority group or the majority of
followers does not share the same value base as the leader, it may become difficult for the leader
to gain legitimacy and thus express authenticity.
5. Authentic leadership and its many siblings
The strong critique raised above is on the whole valid also for other positive versions of leadership
theory with at times eerily faith-based discourses that represent a poor fit in any enterprise
positioned as “academic”. We see authentic leadership as an example of and symptomatic of
leadership studies as a whole, even though we of course acknowledge the great variation within
this vast field. The majority of all versions of ethical, charismatic (insofar as traditional notions are
concerned), spiritual, servant, and transformational leadership all claim seemingly superior
formulae for different kinds of good outcomes. Let us here only briefly summarize the critique of
transformational leadership. Yukl (1999) points at ambiguity about underlying influence process,
overemphasis on dyadic processes, ambiguity about transformational behaviors, insufficient
specification of negative effects and heroic leadership bias. Van Knippenberg & Sitkin (2013) echo
and expand on many of these points, summarizing their (devastating) critique of one of the many
proposed versions of the new genre of leadership studies, charismatic-transformational leadership,
as follows:
The conceptualization of the construct is seriously flawed, with no definition of charismatic-
transformational leadership independent of its effects, no theory to explain why it consists of
the dimensions proposed and how these dimensions share a charismatic-transformational
quality that differentiates them from other aspects of leadership, and no theoretically
grounded configurational model to explain how the different dimensions combine to form
charismatic-transformational leadership. (p. 45)
Alvesson & Kärreman (2016) emphasize the ideological nature of the leader-hero through
transformational leadership turning “self-centered individuals into being committed members of a
group” (Sashkin, 2004, p. 175). Through transformational leadership practice, employees perhaps
otherwise concerned with autonomy, wage, work conditions, promotion and other “basics” are
expected to de-emphasize such issues and become loyal and committed focused followers to the
leader doing what are perceived as extra-ordinary things, turning the lazy into committed and the
self-centred into leader-centred and devoted organizational citizens. It sounds impressive but may
be easier to teach and preach than practice. Another major problem is the tautological and
ideological nature of the concept:
the assumption is that leadership must be something good. And in the event that it turns out to
be bad, one might always argue that one did not witness the true concept of, let us say,
“transformational” or “authentic” leadership. The concept is never to blame. Its beauty is
always conceptually guaranteed because it is self-referentially true. (Spoelstra & ten Bos
2011, p. 183)
Much leadership studies have a strong religious, even messianic overtone (Alvesson, 2011;
Spoelstra & ten Bos, 2011; Tourish & Pinnington, 2002), often overlapping with hero qualities.
Yet, authenticity can also be addressed without directly invoking heroism in the sense of powerful
action – and heroes don’t have to exhibit transparency. Reassurance of the qualities of our elites –
in a time full of moral uncertainty, doubt and worries offers us comfort. Leaders, at least those
deserving to be seen as “real” leaders, are not only powerful, they are powerful in a right, moral
way. Effective leadership is for example married with integrity – as Palanski & Yammarino (2009)
write, this marriage is almost an axiom in leadership studies. If leaders are power-oriented, it is
only for the good of the organization. Good leaders are authentic, they have integrity and a sense
of moral purpose making them capable of increasing the moral standards of followers. If people in
powerful positions are not of the true grit, they are not really leaders, but something else: tyrants,
inauthentic, simple managers and so on (Burns, 1978; Jackson & Parry, 2008). Hannah and
colleagues (2014) suggest that “non-good” leadership should be referred to as, if not directly bad,
as “supervision”. Leaders and leadership – at least “true” and not pseudo or inauthentic – are
preserved for something pure and morally high-standing.
Broadly similar, but with an even stronger emphasis on the moral element in leadership are ideas
of “servant leadership” (Greenleaf, 1977). Here we find statements like “servant leadership
requires that leaders lead followers for the followers’ own ultimate good” (Sendjaya et al., 2008, p.
403) and that the “sine qua non of servant leadership is followers’ holistic moral and ethical . . .
development” (p. 403). This formulation sounds really appealing and comforting – at least for
followers. Whether organizations (management, colleagues, shareholders) and those these are
supposed to serve (people in need of health care, social services, customers etc.) see it in the same
way is uncertain, but the complexities around doing servant leadership for the serving of the
recipients of an organization tend to be bypassed. Some expand the notion of “servant” to refer to
all stakeholders (Lemaine et al., 2018), neglecting the problems of conflicting interests, of
difficulties to navigate between different notions of the moral good and making everyone happy.
Making efforts to serve “everybody” may call for extreme altruism, possibly rare among people in
Much of present-day leadership theory sounds very uplifting. Indeed, these forms of leadership
studies can work as Prozac (Collinson, 2012) for practitioners, aspiring leaders and perhaps also
leadership scholars, possibly too eager to engage in “feel-good studies”. But they don’t facilitate
our understanding and they are hardly helpful for managers and others trying to deal with real life
situations rich with dilemmas and difficulties.
6. What to do then?
The reader may find our tone negative and unconstructive. We see critique as extremely important
and sometimes absolutely crucial in order to set social research on a better course. Authentic
leadership as it is currently practiced in leadership studies is not helpful. It is a pseudo-solution,
risking making organizational life even more full of faking and contradictions camouflaged by
rosy images than it already is. AL easily legitimizes and supports what may be experienced as
corporate “bullshit” (Spicer, 2018).
Our ambition with this study is to encourage critical awareness and basic rethinking around issues
of authenticity and leadership in organizations. There are more realistic, less ideological and
contradictory views on leadership available (e.g., Alvesson, Blom & Sveningsson, 2017), although
some of these are more about management than leadership (e.g., Morgeson, DeRue & Karam,
2010). However, few take the authenticity (and related concepts of morality, self-awareness,
integrity and sincerity) seriously. We do agree with some scholars of authentic leadership about
the need to consider issues around in/authenticity much more in research. On a more positive note:
Theories such as transformational, ethical, authentic, and other “newer genre” leadership
theories have helped to address previously neglected topics, such as leader visionary and
inspirational messages, transparency, emotional effects, morality, individualized attention, and
intellectual stimulation. (Hannah et al, 2014, p. 615)
However, this calls for a grounding in organizational reality, not in sagas about a bright new
leadership practice, accomplished by the right leadership package. What to do then? Here we only
point at a few options for more realistic studies of authenticity and related topics at work.
6.1. Studying struggles with contrasting ideals
Few people have a simple, integrated set of beliefs and morals that can just be expressed and
lead to positive responses. Here investigations of contradictions and compromises can be
helpful. Many leadership scholars work with the assumption of a firm, stable and basically
contradiction-free set of values informing the (good) manager. Yet most studies of managers in
real life show the difficulties of working with clear and consistent values. A manager we
studied points out the dilemma of combining the natural role of leader with seeing other
people’s needs for acknowledgement and recognition:
I try to take it easy, but I can’t. It’s a question of what you do with your leadership so that you
don’t use it to dominate and take time from other people, because that’s not good. I have to find
a balance between taking up time myself and allowing others to do that – take up time when
necessary and let it go when necessary. I end discussions to keep to time, and it feels terrible.
Once I told myself not to say anything, not to be visible, not to exist and to let other people take
center stage. It was really tough, but I don’t want to be the one who dominates and is the centre
of attention. (Sveningsson & Alvesson, 2016, p. 184)
In a similar way Ibarra (2015) refers to a manager who describes managing tension between
authority and approachability:
To be authoritative, you have to privilege knowledge, experience, and expertise over the team’s,
maintaining a measure of distance. To be approachable, you emphasize your relationships with
people, their input, and their perspective, and you lead with empathy and warmth. Getting the
balance right presents an acute authenticity crisis for true-to-selfers, who typically have a
strong preference for behaving one way or the other. (p. 56)
Assuming that organizations and people have diverse and often conflicting ideals means that
issues around authenticity call for complicating working through and balancing these. How is this
balancing done? What is happening with self-knowledge, true-to-self (selves), relational ideals
balancing feedback and moral convictions/flexibilities under these (realistic) circumstances?
6.2. Focusing on followers and leader/follower relations
In line with Gardner and collegues (2011), we propose a sharper focus on subordinate/follower
experience, perception and reasoning. Sidani and Rowe (2018) suggest a model for how followers
perceive AL and how this leads to legitimation. The emphasis on followers – whose responses and
acts are crucial for any possible outcome of leadership – seems much more fruitful and relevant
than focusing on the presumably (in)authentic leader. Here broad assessment of managers on
relevant issues and possible consequences can be explored. Such studies need to carefully avoid
superficial answers and try to take the broader considerations of followers and their relations with
the leader seriously. How do they see and assess their managers? In what way do they believe that
they are influenced by their managers (or vice versa) and how is this influencing related to
authenticity? Is the latter central or is it less of a concern? Perhaps other issues – effective
management, support, knowledge, communication, trust, political skills (e.g. for securing
resources) – may matter more? A focus on topics with little consideration of what followers may
find important and relevant may give a misleading impression of leader-followership. Within a
broadly defined “authenticity domain” a formal change of focus to follower perceptions as well as
leader/follower relations also means that we should shift the discussion to leader-follower aligned,
diverse or fragmented sense making and understandings of trust, sincerity or integrity or
something else instead of authenticity “as such”.
6.3. Zooming on the self and its development
A closer scrutiny of dynamic, developmental and situational nature of self and authenticity
concerns at work and in a career context is called for (Ibarra, 2015). One may also study how
people relate to their self-conceptions in stable versus different situations. Ibarra (2015) suggests a
distinction between work calling for improvement and for change, with clear implications for how
to work with, know and act in line with a sense of self.
As we strive to improve our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass that helps us
navigate choices and progress toward our goals. But when we’re looking to change our game,
a too rigid self-concept becomes an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth. (Ibarra 2015, p. 55)
She then goes on to suggest using several role models, working on getting better and not sticking
to “your” story, and an ”adaptively authentic” way of leading, which requires a playful frame of
mind. Ibarra suggests that we should think of leadership development as trying on possible selves
rather than working on yourself—which, let’s face it, sounds like drudgery. But “when we adopt a
playful attitude, we are more open to possibilities” (p. 58).
Sometimes people may benefit from overcoming their self, to not get closer but to be different
from self in given situations. The self is of course not a source of only good things, but also
constraints and limitations. It may thus mean constraints for learning to master a role that is not in
line with one’s natural feeling of selfhood. How does one’s authenticity change when one switches
from being an engineer to being a manager, or from being an analyst to being an account director?
How are people struggling with being eager to express their self and values versus wanting to
question themselves, learn and change?
6.4. Studying when, why and how to be authentic
If we bypass authentic leadership as a static essence and consider in particular managerial work
calling for situated action rather than a consistent style, we could look at authentic leadership as
actions and episodes. Arguably, a significant part of work runs reasonably smoothly and can even
be carried out almost mindlessly (Ashforth & Fried, 1988), but in some situations, interactions and
episodes being authentic may be somewhat of a problem. When does authenticity become an
issue? When do people stop acting without self-awareness and start considering who am I, is this
really me, what is reasonable to feel and do? Feelings of fake and pretense or moral doubt may be
salient. Fear, shame and guilt may be part of the picture. In-/authenticity then becomes a concern,
not just part of what is taken for granted. How is an experience of faking or loss of integrity dealt
with, in terms acting ”authentically” – leading to anguish, conflict and sanctions, or respect and
self-esteem? If a person for instance speaks up, how do other people respond?
6.5. Facing negative consequences of authenticity
The – arguably significant – negative effects of managers ambitiously trying to be authentic could
also be investigated. If managers (and others) would take authenticity seriously it would be a
radical break with dominant conventions at work, organizations and society. The act of putting
one’s self in the center, expressing what one really thinks, and insisting on acting in line with one’s
moral convictions would sometimes be appreciated, but often would also lead to confusion,
conflict, exits, tough choices, dilemmas, the undermining of trust and authority and, as a result of
all these experiences, a risk for an existential crisis (or being fired or otherwise marginalized).
Unless one’s self, values and beliefs are perfectly aligned with all the requirements of various
interest groups, including senior managers, colleagues, subordinates and customers, there will be
plenty of frictions. Normally people just accept and downplay these and try to adapt, but a truly
authentic person will experience, acknowledge and act according to self and moral imperatives,
often against the will of significant others. Such acting may lead to productive dissensus but often,
the personal and social costs for the authentic person may be high. A study could trace examples of
people perceived as acting clearly authentically in a way that is not adapted to what all agree with
but shows clear integrity. What is happening then? What are the experiences and processes
following from what are experienced as authentic acting?
7. Conclusion
Authentic leadership is generally treated as a stable, fixed essence or quality. This view reflects
psychological reductionism and a limited understanding of the phenomenon in terms of social
contingencies, workplace dynamics and varied constructions of what is authentic. “Leadership” is
hardly referred to at all in authentic leadership theory; there is almost nothing on how the authentic
leader is supposed to act. It is fine if people try to know themselves, have transparent relations, be
consistent and the like, but this perspective is quite different from doing management of meaning,
encouraging people to make an effort, be more creative, raise their spirit, try to make sure there are
good results, and so forth.
Despite our strong skepticism of authentic leadership – and of positive leadership studies more
broadly – we are in full favor of efforts to develop knowledge of how people in managerial and
other jobs should try to deal with dilemmas around perceptions and experiences of authenticity,
perhaps better framed as morality, sincerity, ethics, integrity, being genuine/fake and work
relations in general. As s contrast to recent discourses on the importance of work being
meaningful (and for some it is, of course), many find limited meaning at work, and are
disillusioned and cynical. These negative experiences as well as managerial misconduct and moral
failures need to be taken seriously and call for investigations into organizational cultures, social
practices and change.
We would like to have a better world, too, but do not see authentic leadership recipes – or other
positive theories – being the way forward. Authentic leadership is far from alone as a deeply
problematic leadership theory. Many concepts are ill-defined, tautological, ideological and resist
rigorous study. Confusions around notions like charisma and transformational leadership ”has
made the fog over the leadership landscape thicker still” (Antonakis et al., 2016, p. 294) and with
the contemporary popularity of authentic leadership and its siblings, uncritical thinking in
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... Para avaliar a validade de construto discriminante, foi considerada a proposta a proposta de 1981 (18) pacotes "lavaan" (19) e "semTools" (20) foram utilizados para realização das análises. (21) , e que a transparência relacional requer genuinidade e transparência da parte do líder, de modo a conseguir confiança dos seguidores (22) , propagar o que pensam e buscar harmonia no grupo (9) . ...
... Importante ressaltar que é necessário investir no fortalecimento das relações interpessoais entre líder e liderados para que se possa ter uma comunicação mais assertiva bem como desenvolver a autoconfiança na equipe (23) . De forma análoga, a perspectiva moral prevê de suas potencialidades e fragilidades) (7,21) . Ademais, os itens nem sempre estão correlacionados com um único fator, havendo algum grau de associação aos fatores conceitualmente relacionados (25) . ...
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Resumen Objetivo: estimar las propiedades psicométricas del Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ) aplicado a enfermeros brasileños. Método: estudio observacional transversal con muestreo no probabilístico. Las propiedades psicométricas de las versiones RATER y SELF del ALQ se estimaron mediante análisis factorial confirmatorio con el método de estimación robusta WLSMV. Como índices de calidad de ajuste de los modelos se utilizó: razón de chi-cuadrado por grados de libertad (χ2/gl), Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) y Standardized Root Mean Squared Residual (SRMR). La confiabilidad de los datos se analizó mediante el coeficiente alfa ordinal y la confiabilidad compuesta. Resultados: participaron 181 enfermeros (sexo femenino: 80,1%; edad media de 34,6 años; tiempo de trabajo inferior a cinco años: 76,3%). Los modelos completos ALQ RATER y ALQ SELF no mostraron un ajuste adecuado. Por lo tanto, el modelo refinado presentó un mejor ajuste para la muestra (ALQ RATER: χ2/gl=2,77; CFI=0,97; TLI=0,97; RMSEA=0,10; SRMR=0,05; ALQ SELF: χ2/gl=2,74; CFI=0,94, TLI=0,92, RMSEA=0,10, SRMR=0,08). En el modelo ALQ RATER se eliminaron los ítems 1, 7 y 13. Debido a la alta correlación entre los factores Transparencia Relacional y Perspectiva Moral, se propuso un modelo de tres factores basado en la unión de los factores mencionados anteriormente. En el modelo ALQ SELF se eliminaron los ítems 2, 5, 9 y 10. Asimismo, se propuso un modelo trifactorial basado en la unión de dos factores, ahora denominado Equilibrio de Autoconciencia. Conclusión: los datos obtenidos con el Authentic Leadership Questionnaire con enfermeros brasileños fueron válidos y confiables.
... Para avaliar a validade de construto discriminante, foi considerada a proposta a proposta de 1981 (18) pacotes "lavaan" (19) e "semTools" (20) foram utilizados para realização das análises. (21) , e que a transparência relacional requer genuinidade e transparência da parte do líder, de modo a conseguir confiança dos seguidores (22) , propagar o que pensam e buscar harmonia no grupo (9) . ...
... Importante ressaltar que é necessário investir no fortalecimento das relações interpessoais entre líder e liderados para que se possa ter uma comunicação mais assertiva bem como desenvolver a autoconfiança na equipe (23) . De forma análoga, a perspectiva moral prevê de suas potencialidades e fragilidades) (7,21) . Ademais, os itens nem sempre estão correlacionados com um único fator, havendo algum grau de associação aos fatores conceitualmente relacionados (25) . ...
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Objective: to establish the psychometric properties of the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ) applied to Brazilian nurses. Method: cross-sectional observational study with a non-probabilistic sample. The psychometric properties of the RATER and SELF versions of the ALQ were calculated using confirmatory factor analysis with the WLSMV robust estimation method. The following indices were used to assess the goodness-of-fit of the model: chi-square by degrees of freedom (χ2/df), Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) and Standardized Root Mean Squared Residual (SRMR). Data reliability was analyzed using the ordinal coefficient alpha and composite reliability. Results: 181 nurses participated of the study (female gender: 80.1%; mean age of 34.6 years; working time of less than five years: 76.3%). The complete ALQ RATER and ALQ SELF models did not present an adequate fit. Therefore, the refined models presented a better fit to the sample data (ALQ RATER: χ2/df=2.77; CFI=0.97; TLI=0.97; RMSEA=0.10; SRMR=0.05; ALQ SELF: χ2/df=2.74; CFI=0.94; TLI=0.92; RMSEA=0.10; SRMR=0.08). In the ALQ RATER model, items 1, 7 and 13 were excluded. Due to the high correlation between the factors Relational Transparency and Moral Perspective, a three-factor model based on the combination of the factors mentioned above was proposed. In the ALQ SELF model, items 2, 5, 9 and 10 were excluded. Likewise, a three-factor model based on the combination of two factors, now called Self-Awareness Balance, was proposed. Conclusion: the data obtained with the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire with Brazilian nurses were valid and reliable.
... This is justified by the direct relationship between their theoretical concepts, since showing the true self to others (relational transparency) is an essential characteristic of those who behave according to their personal values (moral perspective). In addition, it is known that people tend to perceive and evaluate transparency based on their own structures, values, emotions and cognitive limitations (21) , and that relational transparency requires genuineness and transparency of leaders to gain the trust of their followers (22) , propagate their thoughts and seek harmony in the group (9) . ...
... Thus, the Relational and Moral factors are associated with transparency and ethics, which must go hand in hand. Corroborating the above, a study carried out in Belgium shows that the authentic leadership and behavioral integrity of the leader are related to follower performance and organizational commitment, and that this relationship is maintained by controlling the ethical organizational culture (24) , correlating the factors Relational weaknesses) (7,21) . Furthermore, the items are not always correlated with a single factor, as there is some degree of association with conceptually related factors (25) . ...
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Objective: to establish the psychometric properties of the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ) applied to Brazilian nurses. Method: cross-sectional observational study with a non-probabilistic sample. The psychometric properties of the RATER and SELF versions of the ALQ were calculated using confirmatory factor analysis with the WLSMV robust estimation method. The following indices were used to assess the goodness-of-fit of the model: chi-square by degrees of freedom (χ2/df), Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) and Standardized Root Mean Squared Residual (SRMR). Data reliability was analyzed using the ordinal coefficient alpha and composite reliability. Results: 181 nurses participated of the study (female gender: 80.1%; mean age of 34.6 years; working time of less than five years: 76.3%). The complete ALQ RATER and ALQ SELF models did not present an adequate fit. Therefore, the refined models presented a better fit to the sample data (ALQ RATER: χ2/df=2.77; CFI=0.97; TLI=0.97; RMSEA=0.10; SRMR=0.05; ALQ SELF: χ2/df=2.74; CFI=0.94; TLI=0.92; RMSEA=0.10; SRMR=0.08). In the ALQ RATER model, items 1, 7 and 13 were excluded. Due to the high correlation between the factors Relational Transparency and Moral Perspective, a three-factor model based on the combination of the factors mentioned above was proposed. In the ALQ SELF model, items 2, 5, 9 and 10 were excluded. Likewise, a three-factor model based on the combination of two factors, now called Self-Awareness Balance, was proposed. Conclusion: the data obtained with the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire with Brazilian nurses were valid and reliable.
... Positivity has always been in the periphery of various leadership styles but has never been its core defining element. The scholarly work has highlighted that positive leadership literature is fragmented and missing a more practical and theoretically rooted explanation(Alvesson & Einola, 2019). Majorly the leadership literature has portrayed a heroic picture of the leader widely neglecting the relational aspect adding to merely another attractive sounding style without rigorous academic backing(Alvesson & Einola, 2019). ...
... The scholarly work has highlighted that positive leadership literature is fragmented and missing a more practical and theoretically rooted explanation(Alvesson & Einola, 2019). Majorly the leadership literature has portrayed a heroic picture of the leader widely neglecting the relational aspect adding to merely another attractive sounding style without rigorous academic backing(Alvesson & Einola, 2019). It is believed that a positive leader helps to mitigate the challenges of globalization by turning them into opportunities for leveraging the diversity of the global context(Youssef-Morgan et al., 2013). ...
Despite evidence on the increasing centrality of moral approaches to leadership for extant employees, management research provides little guidance on whether and how prospective employees come to draw conclusions about such leadership in their employer choice. Therefore, this paper integrates authentic leadership into signaling theory to identify CEO sociopolitical activism—a public and costly expression of personal political values by a company's highest and most visible leader—as an effective signal that is interpreted by job seekers to evaluate the CEOs’ degree of authentic leadership. Three experiments, including a parallel design for causal mediation inferences, and a field survey support that authentic leadership attributions mediate the positive impact of CEOs’ activism on job seekers’ employer attractiveness evaluations and employer choice. This mediation is attenuated when the activist CEO's espoused political values are incongruent with those of the job seeker and when the CEO engages in activism due to customer pressure rather than personal convictions. These findings primarily contribute to signaling theory and the literature on authentic leadership. For practitioners, the paper identifies a unique leadership signal that can contribute to an employer brand while cautioning about the costs this signal might impose on companies’ diversity.
This paper aims at investigating how leadership style can enhance workplace climate in the setting of virtual teams. Drawing from the theories of authentic leadership (AL) and social penetration (SPT), this study aims at investigating the role of IT usage of telework communicating tools in building and shaping the relationship between a subordinate (follower) and his or her supervisor at workplace. Variables of trust, identifications with leaders, intentions of knowledge sharing (self-disclosure, knowledge sharing and online voice behavior) are introduced in this research framework. Valid samples of 351 subjects of full-time workers reveal that the social penetration theory applies not only to face-to-face interactions but also to online interactions amongst members of virtual teams. It is projectsed that supervisors' transparency contributes to subordinates’ self-disclosure and consequently leads to better working cohesion and relationship quality. Further, our study demonstrated that the disclosure of work-related knowledge and opinions related to workplace improvements in the computer-mediated communication (CMC) manner that are common at workplaces could positively influence the building of a constructive relationship between authentic leaders and their subordinates. This paper confirmed that the cohesion engaged amongst members of virtual teams and the relationship at work can be enhanced based on reciprocal information disclosure behavior. Especially in the season of epidemic prevention season, enterprises should quickly adopt the changing business environment and encourage staff to work from home. The self-disclosure behavior including online voicing should be promoted. Discussion and implications for theory and practices are given.
Despite a tremendous amount of research on the topic, we still have little evidence regarding the extent to which transformational leader behaviors (TLBs) cause a number of outcomes. The primary inhibitors include a lack of theoretical precision, the conflation of leader (follower) behaviors with evaluations, as well as measurement and design issues which prevent causal inferences. To address such concerns, we reframe the transformational leadership literature from a signaling theory perspective. Study 1 reviewed existing definitions of transformational leadership. Building on this, we introduce a new definition of TLB: Leader signaling through developmental and prosocial behaviors tailored for each unique stakeholder (e.g., person, dyad, group, organization). Leveraging topic modeling, Study 2 involved the analysis of open-ended survey responses. Using a constant comparative approach, six TLBs were identified: 1. teaching life lessons, 2. introduction to developmental opportunities, 3. providing different perspectives, 4. seeking different perspectives, 5. questioning critical assumptions, and 6. speaking words of affirmation. Studies 3 and 4 were preregistered experiments that showed TLBs cause variation in follower evaluations of the leader as transformational (n = 416; Cohen’s d = .50) and contributions to a public good (n = 320; Cohen’s d = .36), respectively. We conclude with recommendations for theory and practice.
Authentic leadership theory (ALT) has become the target for considerable criticism of its conceptual grounding and the methods used for its empirical investigation. Mats Alvesson and Katja Einola (2019) have led the charge in advancing skepticism about ALT by warning of the pitfalls of excessive positivity in leadership research, using ALT as an illustrative example. In a subsequent exchange of letters, the cases against and for authentic leadership were advanced by Alvesson and Einola and Gardner and Karam, respectively (Gardner et al., 2021). As an extension to this debate, Einola and Alvesson (2021) advanced a provocative argument that ALT is not only misguided, but “perilous” to those who believe in it. We felt compelled to reply to this claim by documenting erroneous elements of their arguments that we contend constitute “academic gaslighting” in that they may cause leadership scholars and practitioners to inappropriately discount empirical evidence and their own lived experiences of authentic leadership (Gardner & McCauley, 2022). Alvesson and Einola (2022), in turn, replied with a lengthy defense of their position in which they assert that rather than engaging in gaslighting, their critique constitutes an effort to “enlighten” ALT. In this final entry in this academic exchange, we identify areas of agreement as well as continued disagreements in our exchange and take issue, yet again, with their argument that ALT is inherently dangerous for scholars and practitioners alike. We conclude by asking readers to be wary of these efforts to gaslight ALT and instead rely on the extant empirical evidence and their own lived experiences to draw their own conclusions about the merits of authentic leadership as a topic for academic inquiry and an approach for practicing leadership in the workplace.
Remote and gig work is prevalent in today’s labor market and calls for skilled digital leaders. Signaling charisma using charismatic-leadership-tactics (CLTs) to increase follower performance works in face-to-face communication. However, technology-mediated communication reduces the signaling opportunities, thereby calling the effectiveness of charismatic signaling into question. In Study 1, I conducted a large field experiment investigating the impact of charismatic signaling (neutral or charisma) and the chosen communication channel (text, audio, video), on follower performance in the gig economy. Video messages led to lower output than text or audio communication in the neutral set-up. In contrast, the output was not significantly different between the communication channels in the charisma set-ups. The data revealed a positive interaction between video communication and CLT presence. The charismatic video led to higher output than the neutral video indicating that leaders need to deliver a coherent picture, especially when using the video channel. In Study 2, I investigated if traditional questionnaires (MLQ) measuring perceived charisma and unrelated participants’ forecasts predict Study 1′s outcomes. Although CLT presence led to higher scores in perceived charisma, follower performance was not predicted by the scores. Thus, the MLQ is not an appropriate instrument for predicting follower behavior.
The building leader is the pulse of the school. The behavior and emotions of building leaders set the tone for short term and long-term outcomes in schools. The ability of the school principal to be aware of the characteristics they have, what they believe in, and the goals they desire to achieve is critical. Principals who follow up with their own awareness and put into action those beliefs are served well. Research suggests that principals who consistently exercise their core values, establish goals, understand their purpose and lead with their heart are considered genuine in their leadership. Authenticity was the desired goal of this study, to find out if principals walk the life they say they believe. This study is presented with the framework of personal journeys of building principals and their awareness of their own authenticity and ability to act on their authentic beliefs. This study will inform the field of authentic leadership through the role of the building principal and how they stay authentic in the face of external challenges.
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The transition from industrial to postindustrial society and from modern to postmodern culture has led to increased interest in authenticity. Such interest is widespread not only among those studying changes in social structure and culture but also among those who adhere to the social psychological tenet that self reflects society, and society, the self. In this article, I specify how issues of authenticity have become a pervasive part of our culture, our institutions, and our individual selves. Building on both Rosenberg and Turner, I conceptualize authenticity in terms of a commitment to self-values. The relevance of this conceptualization is illustrated, first by demonstrating its implications for identity theory and second through its implicit use by others writing about the contemporary experience of being oneself. I conclude with a discussion of how this approach to authenticity may be used by social scientists to better conceptualize self in a way that explicitly incorporates the cultural implications of today's postindustrial society.