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What is the Authentic Leadership Theory?

by Stuart Miles at

by Stuart Miles at

Basic Authentic Leadership Theory Model

The basic model of Authentic Leadership involves:

  • Thought process
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Inner drive
  • Deepest values

Why should anyone be led by you? - Authentic Leadership

Why should anyone be led by you? - Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership Theory Introduction

Authentic Leadership has been around for the past ten decades. The subject of authenticity is the newest leadership theory being studied and developed today. While there is currently not a model in place for the authentic leadership theory, I will attempt to develop one in this hub.

But first, what is the Authentic Leadership Theory? The Authentic Leadership Theory focuses on "whether leadership is genuine and 'real'" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). The implication of this theory is genuine authenticity of leaders and their leadership. This theory is still being developed, and therefore is likely to change with new research.

Why is there a need for authentic leadership? Recent turmoil in society has fueled the need for authentic leadership. For example, with the events of 9/11, World Com, Enron, banking industry failures created major worries and reservations. "People feel apprehensive and insecure about what is going on around them, and as a result, they long for bona fide leadership they can trust and for leaders who are honest and good" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Example: We can see a distinct example of this with past presidential debates. The public has felt robbed with economic uncertainties growing, gas prices rising, and problems that they felt were a direct result of one president. Another president now has the chance to come along with a new vision and promises of integrity to fix the current problems for a better future. "People's demands for trustworthy leadership make the study of authentic leadership timely and worthwhile" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Previous Research & Development Approaches

Researchers have also expressed an interest in the study of Authentic Leadership: "It was identified earlier in transformational leadership research but never fully articulated" (Bass, 1990; Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Burns, 1978; Howell & Avolio, 1993). In fact, transformational leadership was criticized by scholars who felt the theory did not represent a definitive approach from earlier two-factor theories. Conger, in 2004, made conjectures that, over the previous decade, researchers have produced mainly standard models of leadership, including: "transformational, charismatic and emotional intelligence based models that assume a unitary approach to leadership across levels and situations" (Klenke, Karin, 2007). New theories challenge the validity and usability of the paradigm. He approaches to Authentic Leadership, that have been developed, are not currently evidence based. Therefore, the theory needs further clarification and testing. Researchers are focused on identifying the parameters of Authentic Leadership and more clearly conceptualize the theory. These efforts continue today.

Authentic Leadership Theory Model - 3 Viewpoints

Authentic Leadership - 3 Viewpoints

(Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, & Developmental)

  • Thought process - Intrapersonal
  • Emotional intelligence - Interpersonal Skills
  • Inner drive - Developmental
  • Deepest values - Developmental

Authentic Leadership Theory - 3 Viewpoints

Authentic Leadership is a complex theory that is difficult to categorize. In fact, among all leadership scholars there is no one exact definition that has been agreed upon. "Instead, there are multiple definitions, each written from a different viewpoint and with a different emphasis" (Chan, 2005). Authentic Leadership can be viewed from three different viewpoints, including: intrapersonal, developmental, and interpersonal. The model that I am creating contains the leader's thought process, which I categorized as intrapersonal; emotional inteligence categorized as interpersonal skills; and inner drive and deepest values categorized both as developmental. Each of the three viewpoints is put into further detail below.

How are intrapersonal connections established?

Intrapersonal Definition

Intrapersonal leadership deals with the leader and what goes on inside of the leader. Topics studied within intrapersonal leadership include: self-knowledge, self-regulation, and self-concept. An example of the intrapersonal approach was provided by Shamir and Eilam (2005). "They define authentic leaders based on the leader's self-concepts and how these concepts are related to their actions" (Northouse, Pepter, 2007). By doing so, Shmir and Eilam were suggesting that Authentic Leaders were genuine, leader from conviction, and are originals, not copies. "In addition, these author's contended that the development of Authentic Leadership relies heavily on the life story of the leader and the meaning the leader attaches to his or her life experiences" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). These two authors also confirmed that followers played a vital role in Authentic Leadership. "Followers need to have a realistic perception of their leaders, and they need to affirm the legitimacy of the leader and the leader's behavior" (SHamir, Eilam, 2005).

Importance of Self Awareness and Leadership

Developmental Definition

Avolio and his associates derived the developmental perspective. From the developmental perspective, the leader does not necessarily have a fixed set of traits. Rather, the traits within the leader can be nurtured. "Authentic Leadership develops in people over a lifetime and can be triggered by major life events such as severe illness or a new career" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "Taking a developmental approach, Walumbwa et al. (2008) conceptualied authentic leadership as a pattern of leader behavior that develops from and is grounded in the leader's positive psychological qualities and strong ethics" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency and all components of Authentic Leadership according to Walumbwa et al. (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). These components are said to be learned and developed over the course of a leader's lifetime.

Interpersonal Skills in Leadership

Interpersonal Definition

The Interpersonal process is a third way of defining authentic leadership. "This perspective emphasizes that authentic leadership is relational, created by leaders and followers together" (Eagly, 2005). Interpersonal process says that authentic leadership is also dependent on followers response, rather than just leaders efforts alone. "Authenticity emerges from the interactions between leaders and followers" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). The process is reciprocal because both leader and follower affect each other. "According to the Interpersonal Prospective, to be effective, authentic leaders need to obtain 'buy in' from their followers" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Positive outcomes are said to be achieved only when followers recognize and or appreciate as proper the values advocated by the leader. "Leaders create change when they adapt their message to the beliefs and values of their followers" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Authentic Leadership Theory Model

Thought ProcessEmotional IntelligenceInner DriveDeepest Values

- Intrapersonal

- Interpersonal Skills

- Developmental

- Developmental

+ Self Knowledge

+ Positive Relations

+ Life Events

+ Moral Perspective

+ Self Concept

+ Adapt to Followers

+ Career Changes

+ Strong Ethics

+ Self Regulation

+ Followers Response

+ Experiences

+ Experiences

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Approaches to Authentic Leadership

"Formulations about authentic leadership can be differentiated into two areas: (1) the practical approach, which evolve from real-life examples and training and development literature; and (2) the theoretical approach, which is based on findings from social science research" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). These two concepts provide imminent viewpoints about the multifaceted process of Authentic Leadership.

Robert Terry's Approach

Information on "how to" steps to become an authentic leader are increasingly sought after today. Two practical approaches to Authentic leadership exist, "including: (1) Robert Terry's authentic leadership approach (1993), and (2) Bill George's authentic leadership approach (2003)" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Each of the above mentioned approaches provides a distinct viewpoint on how to practice authentic leadership. Robert Terry's approach to Authentic Leadership is practice-oriented. "It utilizes a formula or guide for "how to do" leadership" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "At its core, the Terry approach is action centered: It focuses on the actions of the leader, leadership team, or organization in a particular situation" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Authentic Leadership from Bill George

Bill George's Approach

Bill George's Authentic Leadership Approach focuses on the characteristics of authentic leaders. "George describes, in a practical way, the essential qualities of authentic leadership and how individuals can develop these qualities if they want to become authentic leaders" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "George found that authentic leaders have a genuine desire to serve others, they know themselves, and they feel free to lead from their core values" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Five Basic Characteristics - "Specifically, authentic leaders demonstrate five basic characteristics: (1) They understand their purpose, (2) they have strong values about the right thing to do, (3) they establish trusting relationships with others, (4) they demonstrate self-discipline and act on their values, and (5) they are passionate about their mission" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Passion, behavior, connectedness, consistency, and compassion were characteristics that individuals needed to become an authentic leader. Authentic leaders has a real sense of purpose, are inspired and motivated, and passionate individuals. "Authentic leaders do not compromise their values, but rather use those situations to strengthen their values" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Authentic leaders build strong relationships and are willing to share their own story with others and listen to other's stories.

Challenge Confronting Researchers

"A major challenge confronting researchers in developing a theory was to define the construct and identify its characteristics" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Walumbwa et al. (2008), defined "authentic leadership as a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced process of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). This definition captures the current scholars thinking of leadership about authentic leadership and how it operates.

David Castillo Dominici

David Castillo Dominici

Criticisms of Authentic Leadership

Many criticisms exist on Authentic Leadership. First, the theory of Authentic Leadership is still in the beginning stages of development, leaving various unanswered inquiries regarding concepts, ideas, and validity. Next, "the moral component of authentic leadership is not fully explained" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "Whereas authentic leadership implies that leaders are motivated by higher-order end values such as justice and community, the way that these values function to influence authentic leadership is not clear" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Thorough answers are not yet available for these questions. Thirdly, "researchers have questioned whether positive psychological capacities should be included as components of authentic leadership" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). Finally, "it is not clear how authentic leadership results in positive organizational outcomes" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).


Although there is little research and evidence that people can use to develop or enhance authentic leadership, there are several applicable themes in how to use in organizational or practice settings. One common theme is hat a leader can be come skilled at Authentic Leadership as a lifelong learning process. Therefore, it is suggested that human resource departments could promote Authentic Leadership behaviors in employees who take on leadership positions. "Another theme that can be applied to organizations is the overriding goal of authentic leaders to try to do the "right" thing, to be honest with themselves and others, and to work for the common good" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "Last, authentic leadership is shaped and reformed by critical life events that act as triggers to growth and greater authenticity" (Northouse, Peter, 2007). "Being sensitive to these events and using them as springboards to growth may be relevant to many people who are interested in becoming leaders who are more authentic" (Northouse, Peter, 2007).

Follower Reactions

"The conceptual and empirical links between authentic leadership and follower attitudes, behaviors, and performance outcomes have not been fully developed" (Avolio, Bruce, 2004). Deep personal values and convictions win the respect and trust of followers. Consistency is the result of self-awareness aligning behavior with ones values engenders credibility with followers. Authentic leadership is a process that draws from both positive psychological capacities and a highly developed organizational context which result in positive follower outcomes. Authentic transformational leadership focuses on the best in people - on harmony, charity, and good works. Authentic Leadership implies that living a good life and self realization has a positive effect on followers.

Copyright Melinda Longoria 2013. All rights reserved.

Copyright Melinda Longoria 2013. All rights reserved.

My Authentic Leadership Model

After completing research on authentic leadership, I was able to narrow authenticity down to four distinct characteristics, which are: thought process, emotional intelligence, inner drive, and deepest values. I categorized these characteristics into the three viewpoints brought out earlier, with thought process being intrapersonal, emotional intelligence being interpersonal, and both inner drive and deepest values being developmental. Next, I derived the leader viewpoints which I will list. Thought process, includes self knowledge, self concept, and self regulation, etc. Emotional intelligence involves positive relations with followers, adaptation to followers, and including follower's responses in emotional processing. Inner drive would include life events, career changes, and personal experiences or those shared from others over the lifetime. Deepest values would include the leader's moral perspective, strong ethics, and also personal and reciprocated experiences. I also included qualities which the authentic leader might have based on the provided categories. Thought process, for the leader, would include the following qualities: self-awareness, self-efficacy, self-liking, and self-congruence. Emotional Intelligence would include: balanced processing, positive exchanges, and identifying with followers on a personal and social level. Inner drive would include the leader's level of motivation, commitment, passion to a clear mission or goals. Deepest values would include the leader's ethics, self-disclosure of values, transcendence, self-sacrifice, and reputation.

Possible Follower Outcomes to Authentic Leadership Model

My theory is that followers will ultimately identify and imitate the leader's positive example in all four areas when the leader has a balance of these characteristics. Each leader will be different and have stronger points in a certain characteristic; however, for a leader to be authentic, I feel that he or she must exhibit all four characteristics in some form. Follower reactions to each characteristic will be different but will ultimately lead to greater bonding with the leader, dedication to the job, satisfaction at their work, and imitation of the leader's strong ethics and values.

Here are the results of the individual characteristics. When a leader exhibits a positive thought process, or intrapersonal, followers will, in tern, benefit from mutual interactions, respect, and will identify with the leader as an individual. As a leader portrays emotional intelligence, or interpersonal, followers will benefit from positive emotions, job satisfaction, optimism, and will put forth a greater effort in their work. A leader exhibiting an inner drive, which is developed over time, will foster hope and trust within followers, as well as meaningfulness in their work and stronger engagement. Finally, a leader who portrays his or her deepest values, which are also developed over time, will experience a reciprocal disclosure from followers, followers will make ethical decisions in their positions, absorb the values of their leader, and gain a mutual respect for the leader.


Authentic Leaders are comfortable being their-selves. "They integrate skills, methods, and techniques that they learn from others into their personal, unique expression of leadership" (Authentic Leadership Institute, 2010). The path of developing their own deeply held leadership is not in imitation of others, but brought from personal experiences and beliefs that are developed over the years of a lifetime. "Authentic leaders are motivated from their deep values and convictions to take action, rather than being driven by status and position. They are true to their-self and servicing of a greater purpose. In most cases, authentic leaders will say that their purpose has them" (Authentic Leadership Institute, 2010). Leaders who exhibit authentic leadership demonstrate high integrity by "taking courses of action independent of pleasing their audience or political expediency. They walk their talk, and in doing so create a level of trust that allows others to follow" (Authentic Leadership Institute, 2010).

Authentic Leadership Theory


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Serenity Miller from Brookings, SD on June 22, 2015:

What an exceptionally thorough and well-written piece, and on a topic close to my heart. Nicely done!

Melinda Longoria MSM (author) from Garland, Texas on January 07, 2014:

Thank you Eiddwen. I really appreciate your comments & feedback. I am working on a few hubs on the topic of leadership this week.

Eiddwen from Wales on January 07, 2014:

So very interesting; a little different to my usual reading but will certainly be looking forward to many more by you.


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