• Quill Team

Authentic Leadership: An Emerging Theory




By Chahat Kaur


Rowan Mulligan, CMC’18, is pursuing a major in Psychology with a Leadership Studies Sequence. After being introduced to several leadership theories, Authentic Leadership (AL) was a new emerging field that intrigued Mulligan enough to conduct a comprehensive literature review on past research that addressed authentic leadership (“Authentic leadership: A review of the literature in the U.S. and Spain”). This article takes excerpts from Mulligan’s literature review and discusses its different components: Authentic Leadership Theory, authentic leaders, and performance in a group organizational setting.


Authentic Leadership (AL) Theory explains that a leader high in self-awareness and “commitment-to-self” will behave consistently with personal values (Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005). One of the four components of authenticity is self awareness that includes: unbiased processing, relational authenticity, and authentic behavior/action (Avolio & Gardner, 2005) AL encourages finding one’s authentic self through “meaningful relationships” that support “significant values” and “shared meaning” (Bhindi & Duignan,1997) pp.119).


To put this theory to use, authentic leaders should use their personal value-behavior alignment to lead their followers in a meaningful, value-based manner. They have a certain sensibility to the needs of others, especially in “multicultural settings in which many leaders operate in the light of the increasing globalizing trends in life and work” (Bhindi & Duignan,1997) pp.119). They can use the environment of trust that they create through their values in order to promote the overall and continuous self-development for all, both leaders and followers.  


In a corporate setting, AL has been positively correlated with employee performance, and employee performance is a large determinant of overall organizational performance (Clapp-Smith et al., 2009). For example, employees who viewed their leader/the founder of the company as a more authentic leader were more likely to possess higher levels of organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and work happiness (Jensen & Luthans,2006a).

Higher levels of AL are associated with higher degrees of engagement within workers through the presence of optimism and trust in the work environment and culture. Both AL and mindfulness base themselves on self-awareness. Mindfulness was positively correlated to AL (Lau et al., 2006; Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005). In her honors senior thesis (MINDFULNESS MATTERS: The Effects of Mindfulness on Organizational Citizenship Behavior), Mulligan found mindfulness to predict authentic functioning. Findings from the Psychological Capital Questionnaire’s (PCQ) test and the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire’s (ALQ) test suggested that AL acted as a mediator to explain the positive relationship between organizational cultures that are flexibility-oriented and worker job satisfaction (Azanza, Moriano, & Molero, 2013). This means that perhaps AL helps organizations that value flexibility promote higher levels of satisfaction among their employees.


The application of AL in a group setting can be explained with two classifications: First, group identification refers to a member recognizing the group’s unified identity as a part of her or his own identity. García-Guiu López et al. (2015) found that the relationship between authentic leadership and a cooperative and unified group can partially be explained by the degree to which one buys into and incorporates the group identity as a part of self-identity. Second, group cohesion refers to dynamic interpersonal relationships that co-achieve shared goals. Findings indicate that both organizational identification and organizational empowerment explain the positive relationship between AL and intrapreneurship (entrepreneurship within the organization).


Mulligan’s review concludes that now is the time to incorporate diverse multicultural insights in the workplace, in order to prepare practically for an ever-increasing globalized future.  This can also be done in the prism of academia to prepare theoretically for the future. In 2011, 70% of the quickest growing companies originated in countries with emerging markets (Dragoni et al., 2014). Perhaps, emerging leaders who strive to enhance their intra- and interpersonal skills along with their intra- and entrepreneurial skills should reflect upon their own levels of value-behavior alignment and how authenticity plays a role in their own life.   


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