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 5: Cameo: a powerful antidote: Hannah Arendt’s concept of uniqueness and the discourse of authentic leadership

Rita Gardiner


In this chapter I argue that Hannah Arendt’s concept of ‘uniqueness’ can enrich leadership theories regarding authenticity. For Arendt, uniqueness emerges from shared communication through action and speech. In her view, we communicate our authenticity, or lack thereof, by means of our words and deeds, which make us ‘uniquely’ who we are. Thus, the clearest indication of a person’s uniqueness, in Arendtian terms, lies in action, since this is how people reveal ‘their unique personal identities’ (Arendt 1958, p. 179). Moreover, a person’s unique identity is always to be understood as both relational and embodied, because each time we act and speak we do so within an already existent web of human relation- ships. Arendt’s concept of uniqueness can expand our understanding of authentic leadership through its grounding in an intersubjective way of viewing the world. In this way a detailed engagement with the work of Hannah Arendt allows for a rethinking of authentic leadership theory that is attentive to difference. I contend that a significant shortcoming in current accounts of authentic leadership is that scholars tend to privilege a leader’s self- knowledge at the expense of intersubjectivity. For example, Avolio et al. (2004) argue that self-awareness is a key facet in a leader’s ability to be authentic. Accordingly, these scholars state that when leaders act in congruence with their beliefs it follows that they will be authentic. Similarly, for Shamir and Eilam (2005), self-knowledge and self- certainty are integral to an authentic leader’s success.

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