What’s Wrong With Authentic Leadership?

What’s Wrong With Authentic Leadership?

2.6 min read

Kyle Kramer

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.

  • Quote of the Day

    “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

    — General George Patton