Table of Contents

Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership

Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by Donna Ladkin and Chellie Spiller

The majority of authentic leadership literature focuses on the individual leader. However, the authors in this volume expertly focus on the premise that leadership is a relational phenomenon and not something that can be distilled down to the actions of one leader, be they authentic or not.

Chapter 3: Essay: authentic leadership critically reviewed

Mats Alvesson and Stefan Sveningsson

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


In the last decade the peculiar topic ‘authentic leadership’ has emerged as a favourite among leadership scholars, consultants and practitioners. This coincides with the rise of general moral concerns in the wake of recent corporate and political ethical scandals involving high-profile politicians and business managers. Against this gloomy stage many scholars who see leadership as the most significant element for organizational success are now suddenly bemoaning the lack of authenticity among many of the so-called leaders who have been putting organizations and people’s livelihoods at stake. The implicit suggestion is that these are ‘less than real leaders’ or leaders lacking ‘true grit’, since they are unable to express hope, confidence and optimistic guidance – central to authentic leadership – in challenging times (Avolio and Gardner 2005). Frequently referred to as a form of positive leadership, authentic leadership is often proclaimed as a solution to ethical, economic, competitive and environmental challenges facing contemporary organizations and society. For example, it is suggested that authentic leadership improves organizational culture, organizational citizenship, motivation, commitment and work satisfaction (Eigel and Kuhnert 2005; Jensen and Luthans 2006). Such a promise helps to extend the popularity and attractiveness of the concept. It seems natural, as a recipe for good leadership, particularly as its opposite sounds intuitively wrong and even immoral: no one wants to be seen as inauthentic and false. Some writers take a critical approach to the topic by problematizing the moral element (Ladkin and Taylor 2010) or viewing it as a means for control (Costas and Fleming 2009) and of domination (Ford and Harding 2011).

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