Authentic Leadership
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Authentic Leadership

Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences

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.
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Chapter 2: Essay: authentic leadership and history

Owain Smolović Jones and Keith Grint


Authentic leadership should be a simple concept. The dictionary suggests that ‘authentic’ means ‘genuine, true, real, verifiable, not false or copied’. In short: be true to yourself and all will be well in the land of leadership. Yet it is a notion that has been bedevilled by increasingly additive preoccupations of mainstream management writers and by criticism from those who despair of authenticity being restricted to the prison of the solitary individual, outside of social relations (Ford and Harding 2011; Ladkin 2010; Ladkin and Taylor 2010). This double bind has been with us for a long time – at least 2600 years. It is a conundrum which was debated by the ancient Greeks and has continued through bloody wars and industrial and cultural revolutions. The core of authentic leadership is strikingly simple and, as with all simple propositions, it is one which quickly becomes headache-inducingly complicated once developed. In what follows we suggest that the bulk of the literature implies that authentic leadership occurs where: 1) the appearance and reality of leadership are identical or closely aligned – the veracity problem (on being true to yourself); 2) the values of the individual mirror the essence of ‘leadership’ – the essentialist problem; or 3) the actions and values of the leaders reflect the norms of leadership – the normative problem. We then consider how these approaches have themselves become authenticated and provide short case studies of two leaders who have become ‘idealized’ figures of authenticity (Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln) before concluding.

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