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What’s Wrong With Authentic Leadership?

Authentic leadership is a concept both highly revolutionary and extremely practical.  It values personal virtue above selfish interests and emphasizes the importance of a leader’s words matching their actions.  So why are there so many critics of a leadership style that has as its very foundation a focus on morality?  Bill George, a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and author of Authentic Leadership:  Rediscovering the Secrets of Lasting Value and True North:  Discover Your Authentic Leadership, introduced authentic leadership in 2003 in the wake of such corporate scandals as Enron, WorldComm, Tyco, and Freddie Mac.  George offered the antidote to morally-challenged corporate leaders, authentic leadership. 


As it happens with innovative concepts that provide answers to complex moral questions, critics of this theory soon emerged objecting almost entirely based on the word “authentic.”  After all, what does it really mean to be “authentic?”  Following an exhaustive dictionary and thesaurus evaluation, the following represent the most common synonyms:  genuine, real, true veritable, reliable, dependable, trustworthy, authoritative, faithful.  So again, I ask, why the issue with George’s use of the word “authentic” in describing leadership?  Answer: key critics of authentic leadership tend to conflate the word “authentic” with the impulse individuals possess to say or do everything on their minds. 


However, demonstrating sound judgment in knowing when to say or not say what’s on your mind isn’t inauthentic, it’s wise.  But what are the keys to seeking an authentic leadership style?  Though not a comprehensive list of authentic leadership qualities, the following represent tangible methods any aspiring authentic leader can employ.



Self-regulation is one of the foremost keys to developing this leadership style.  Embracing one’s unique personality and experiences is as authentic as demonstrating self-control when dealing with personal relationships.  Ultimately, both qualities begin with effective self-evaluation.


Self-evaluation is extremely difficult but mastering such a discipline is a key component to authentic leadership.  The process of self-evaluation benefits both the individual personally and the organization as a whole.

 Inner Circle

Self-evaluation alone does not a good leader make.  Leaders need people, good people, people upon whom they can rely for advice and various levels of support.  The best authentic-leaders create an inner circle comprising of individuals with skills that fill gaps in their leadership styles and challenge them to strive for a better sense of purpose.

Personal Values and Ethics

Possessing a genuine sense of personal values and principles will help the authentic leader better guide both the process of self-evaluation, but also interaction with other individuals within the organization.  They provide the moral compass with which to follow when no one else is looking and the framework through which all decisions are made.


 Authentic leadership is NOT a filterless representation of what you really think.  That’s called stupidity.  On the contrary, this style of leadership requires character, hard work, reflection, and a lot of self-control.   Employed correctly, authentic leadership provides a moral basis for adapting one’s leadership style to any challenge, and a rich environment in which other aspiring leaders can grow.

Kyle Kramer Articles

Emotional Intelligence to Lead and Win

 “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” 


–Coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant


 Thought-provoking words!  This is not about football; it is about leadership!


Coach Bryant’s memorable words transcend all football stadiums. We can recognize much emotional intelligence in his wisdom.  Real leadership cannot be possible without the attribute of emotional intelligence, which enables us to empathize with others, be aware of our own emotions and reactions, and build relationships.


Let’s face it, leaders depend on those they lead: their people.  Leaders can have the sharpest intellect, the brightest ideas, and even the strongest voice. Yet, all of this is useless if they don’t connect with their team. People will be interested in what is in the leader’s heart first, then what is in his/her mind.  Big C for competence is relevant; nonetheless, Big C for Caring is indispensable! Then and only then, people will begin to trust and follow him/her.  


The point is, sometimes we are too busy with the “instruments” or the “tools” and forget about the operators.  Strategies, visions, and bright shining ideas, which can only be closely examined while wearing sun glasses, are useless without the operators (the people on the team). 


But wait a second.  Modern organizations should know everything about leadership.  After all, we have a five millennia-worth of leadership experience — books, audio cassettes, courses, and highly-paid speakers. Yet, the irony is that many organizations often neglect the most basic ingredients to lead and win.  Real leadership includes a sacred responsibility to the welfare of the team.  So the optimum strategy to attain top results has been, is, and will be the optimum strategy to lead and guide the team. Makes sense?


Just like Coach Bryant, leaders put others before themselves. They are also sincerely humble. Yes, you read correctly!  Genuine leadership requires an element of humility.  A richness of arrogance, egocentrism, and vanity blinds leaders.  Real leaders do not fear being outshined by employees with superb abilities. Instead they wisely maximize their people’s abilities and develop their potential. Leaders also recognize their own shortcomings, and are open and candid about them which also contribute to build trust and strong teams.  When leaders admit that they are not supermen or superwomen, their people respect them far more.


The ideal environment at work is a supportive environment that builds trusting relationships.  Build relationships first; then, you will effectively lead them.  Trust is the glue that brings the people together. Build trust to build teamwork!  Downplay or ignore trust…kiss teamwork goodbye!


Conversely, without exercising emotional intelligence and caring for employees, a leader may not be genuine but, a “toxic boss.” Some of the traits of toxic bosses include: lack of respect for employees, not taking the blame and not sharing the credit, poor listening, narcissism, taking full credit while ignoring his employees’ efforts, craving for power, and more. 


Unlike toxic bosses, leaders who exercise emotional intelligence generate a positive climate and, hence, are more likely to get better results.  Leaders take ownership of their organization.  As a result, when something goes wrong in the organization they lead, they do not hesitate to say, “My bad…”   


Finally, let’s compare Coach Bryant’s memorable words to what a toxic boss would say.  How would that sound?  Perhaps it would go like this:


If anything goes bad, they did it.  If anything goes semi-good, you did the bad segment and I did the good one.  If anything goes really good, I and only I did it. (That’s all it takes to throw people under the bus, to win an argument, and shine while eclipsing others).

José Marrero Articles