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 22: Viewpoint: institutional ethics and the spirit of Chinese business leaders

Yi Han


Traditional Chinese culture says little about authentic leadership. In their study about the relevance of this notion within China, Whitehead and Brown (2011) found that ‘Chinese leadership is paradoxical in that both authoritarian and benevolent attributes are observable in the same leader’ (p. 165). They suggested that Chinese culture, which favors collectivism and humility and thus advocates self-abandonment on behalf of others, may actually have advantages in building authentic leadership. In this chapter, I focus on how one aspect of Chinese culture – the role and power of its institutions – contributes to an understanding of how ‘authentic leadership’ might be constituted within the Chinese context. Institutions are particularly apt to consider, as has been noted, that traditional Chinese thought is highly influenced by its cultural institutions (Wong 2001). For example, the influence of Confucianism can be detected in family and educational institutions, and Sun Tzu’s thoughts can still be observed in the modern military. Like many other peoples, the Chinese have built complex social systems incorporating multiple institutions: the family, the state, the military, business, education and so on. Often an institution’s central logic implies certain ethical meanings; for instance, in the Anglo-Saxon context many institutions are informed by the Protestant work ethic. Families, educational institutions and business all guide their members in accordance with the ethical principles inherent within the institution. Such principles I refer to here as institutional ethics.

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