More than ever, what constitutes effective, ethical leadership is a hot topic. It is not surprising, then, that over 1,000 conferees attended the International Leadership Association annual conference in West Palm Beach last week.
The Jepson School of Leadership Studies was well represented. Our faculty presented their scholarship in sessions. Retired faculty member Joanne Ciulla received the Leadership Legacy Lifetime Achievement Award. Retired faculty member Gill Hickman, who received the award in 2016, attended the plenary session at which Joanne was honored. In collaboration with colleagues at the ILA, the Jepson School awarded the Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award to Nicole Capriel Ferry, assistant professor of leadership at the City University of Seattle. In her dissertation, “There’s a Leader in You!” Nicole critically examined how the “everyone-can-be-a-leader” model normalizes systemic inequality.
The conference theme was “Authentic Leadership for Progress, Peace & Prosperity.” Donna Ladkin, who recently joined Antioch University’s graduate program in leadership and change, spoke at the opening plenary session. She challenged conferees to reformulate the notion of authentic leadership.
What is authentic leadership and why might leadership scholars and practitioners want to distance themselves from it? The idea behind authentic leadership is that leaders should not try to be one sort of person or leader with some people and another sort of leader with others. Authenticity means one is true to self and others. Put this way, the concept of authenticity seems harmless enough. In some sense, it’s a strongly normative view that favors honesty.
Scholars have developed frameworks to test whether a leader is authentic and then evaluate the effectiveness of authentic leadership. Empirical research suggests that leaders who are self-aware, transparent, and balanced and possess an internalized moral perspective are rated more highly as effective leaders.
Ladkin, however, was critical of the concept. She contended authentic leadership draws too heavily on the self and, as such, is static. Such a concept of authentic leadership leaves no room for mediation, for a socially constructed self, for a self that alters within the context of leadership roles. As she put it, the leader has many selves and plays many roles. One must ask which selves support each role. Perhaps more important, How do those outside the leader role (sometimes referred to as followers) support the leader role? For Ladkin, leadership is socially constructed and, importantly, authentic leaders must mediate themselves. Her perspective provides an interesting corrective to the heavily individualized constructions of effective leadership.