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 26: Essay: so you want to be authentic in your leadership: to whom and for what end?

Helen Nicholson and Brigid Carroll


In this chapter we take as our starting place the popular idea that being authentic means retreating inwards in order to discover your original self. As this assumption commonly fuels the portrayal of what it means to be an authentic leader, we begin by reviewing the authentic leadership literature that promotes a view of the self as bounded, masterful and self-determining, and investigate the development of authentic leaders in line with such a perspective. Such assumptions have never sat entirely comfortably with us, and we turn to two philosophers, Charles Taylor (1991) and Charles Guignon (2004), who provide compelling warnings about the consequences of this popular portrayal of the authentic self. Using these philosophers’ ideas as our starting point, we reconceive authenticity as a social virtue in order to reframe what we mean by the authentic self and the relationship of this self to others. This leads to rethinking the purpose of authenticity and, ultimately, to considering what this reconstruction means for leadership and its development. In order to better understand authenticity, we incorporate the voices of facilitators and participants who have been engaged in sustained leadership development. These voices are from an 18-month, cross-sector, emergent leaders programme based in New Zealand. While this programme did encourage in-depth reflection and individual experimentation, it primarily approached leadership as a relational and contextual phenomenon with an orientation to building a facility to work with the complexity and ambiguity that seem increasingly to characterize con- temporary and future leadership contexts.

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