Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Donna Ladkin and Chellie Spiller
Chapter 17: Viewpoint: authentic and political leadership: opposite ends of the same continuum?
The dozens of authentic leadership definitions that populate the organizational sciences literature make it difficult to accurately and effectively position authentic leadership in relation to political skill and political leadership. Despite the lack of a precise and universally accepted definition of authentic leadership, there seems to be an assumption that it is devoid of anything political. Some may even argue that authentic leadership and political leadership differ so fundamentally that they occupy opposite poles of the same continuum of leadership behavior. This chapter revisits the relationship between authentic leadership and political behavior, and considers whether the two constructs actually are more alike than their typical presentation suggests. The popular press has promulgated the view that authentic and political behaviors are poles apart, with the labeling of manipulative acts as ‘political’, fostering the belief that any political behavior is inherently self-serving. Conversely, behavior described as ‘authentic’ is perceived to be altruistic, as evidenced by a piece that appeared in The Leadership Quarterly special issue on authentic leadership, including ‘the root of positive forms of leadership’ in the title (Avolio and Gardner 2005, p. 315). This conceptualization is unfortunate because it leads to the belief that all things political are detrimental to organizations and that all things authentic are beneficial. The trouble is that we often can’t tell authentic leadership and authentic leader behaviors from those that aren’t. Additionally, the appearance of authenticity doesn’t always indicate the presence of selfless acts, and the existence of political behaviors need not indicate self-serving motives counter to organizational goals.
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