Authentic leadership theory

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Over the last decade there has been an increasing interest in authentic leadership theory. One reason for that could be the diminishing trust many people have in leaders all over the world. This combined with a "growing awareness of unethical conduct regarding today’s leaders" (Day, 2014) inspired the development of a new leadership approach, combining both ethical and transformational approaches of leadership (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010)


Authentic leadership can be described 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 processing of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development". (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010) Furthermore, an authentic leader should be open and clear towards others, through distributing important information, listening to the input of others and being honest about personal beliefs and feelings. This also includes reinforcing a fair working environment. (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010) Having these qualities, an authentic leader is a role model for his moral and ethical behavior, which as a consequence can also influence the motivation and job satisfaction of his employees (Wong & Laschinger, 2012)

Characteristic types of behavior

  1. Balanced processing: This means considering relevant information, taking positive and negative perspectives, prior to decision making.
  2. Internalized moral perspective: The leaders behavior should not be guided by peer pressure or societal pressure, but instead his actions should result from inner morals and values.
  3. Relational transparency: This component includes disclosing information and honest thoughts and feelings, consequently being open and truthful.
  4. Self-awareness: Having self-knowledge about their mental health, motivations and feelings and also reflecting how others perceive them (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010)

Practices of authentic leaders

  • Pursuing purpose with passion
  • Exhibiting solid values
  • Leading with empathy or heart
  • Establishing enduring relationships
  • Demonstrating self-discipline


This is a method with which authentic leaders can influence their follower's behavior. Empowerment can be defined as "the presence of social structures in the workplace that enable employees to accomplish their work in meaningful ways." (Wong & Laschinger, 2012) The concept includes four main elements, namely "competence, an individual’s belief in his or her capability that he or she can be effective; impact, the degree to which an individual can influence strategic, administrative, or operating outcomes at work; meaningfulness, the value of a work goal or purpose, judged in relation to an individual’s ideals or standards; and self-determination, an individual’s sense of having choice in initiating and regulating actions." (Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010) As studies have shown, there is a positive link between authentic leadership behavior and empowerment.


Having an authentic leader is linked to more effective and satisfied employees who have a positive attitude towards their work. In a study done with nurses by Wong et al. it was show that, "when nurses perceive their leaders as authentic, open, and truthful and involve them in decision-making nurses respond positively to their work, reporting higher work engagement and greater trust in management." (Wong & Laschinger, 2012) A reason for that might be, that authentic leaders guide their employees towards constantly improving their performance at work and the outcomes of their efforts by improving their commitment and engagement (Wong & Laschinger, 2012)

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