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Authentic Leadership Development and Its Contextual Implications

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Authenticity is a developmental process epitomized by the growing awareness of one’s true self. Accordingly, I believe mapping my leadership development in relation to the authentic leadership framework would be appropriate, as this unit has strengthened and encouraged my self-awareness journey. The prominence of self-awareness for authenticity is discernible in the leadership literature whether it is perceived with regard to values (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999), purpose (George, 2003), or positive psychological attitudes (Luthans & Avolio, 2003). I will be exploring and scrutinizing my past and present approaches, as well as envisioning improvements to my future ones in an attempt to reflect on my current leadership ability and create a plan to enhance my authentic leadership capacity. Nevertheless, though most of the authentic leadership literature has remained gender neutral, I believe considering the contextual hurdles of gender bias is indispensable in the analysis of how a female leader is perceived for her authenticity juxtaposed to her male counterparts. Thus, I will be drawing upon the work of Liu et al. (2015) to highlight the contextual hindrances this brings to my leadership development and ways to target these differences.

Bass & Steidlmeier (1999) describe the true self in terms of the values or ethics that shape leaders’ idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. Amongst the strengths of my leadership ability, I prioritize my values. Growing up, my parents always had the development of my moral compass at the forefront of my education. In terms of my leadership style, I believe I have never shied away from these, no matter how pressured I have felt in the past to do something that went against them, I hold my values highly. For my leadership development, I believe I will further refine my moral beliefs, as I encounter distinct situations in the future that enrich and lead me to reflect upon my current values, considering Sparrowe’s (2005) view of a leader’s true self constantly evolving. Though I do not shy away from my beliefs, I can sometimes avoid vocalizing them if unrequested. However, authentic leader should actively display their moral perspectives transparently in order to activate followers' moral perspectives and thereby reduce their inclinations to make unethical decisions (Hannah et al., 2005). Hence, I will work on enhancing the active portrayal of my moral compass prominently in my leadership approach.

Whilst I have my values and moral compass explicit, I’m lacking my unique purpose, which is disclosed by one’s self-awareness. According to George (2003), “to find your purpose, you must first understand yourself, your passions, and your underlying motivations.” Personally, it is challenging to look within me and infer an overall purpose, especially my passions and motivations. I find that most of my actions come from the expectations of others rather than my own enthusiasm. For instance, when deciding which course to study at university, I was swayed to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce, as it is the field in which all of my family members are involved, though my parents never pressured me to do so, I felt compelled to follow in their footsteps. Conversely, authentic leaders’ behavior should be consistent with their values as opposed to being externally influenced by the desire to please others (Gardner et al., 2011). George (2003) corroborates this account by arguing that being swayed by external pressures is a measure of inauthenticity, which is a great impediment to my leadership development. Nonetheless, Sparrowe (2005) argues that one’s true self does not originate in the absence of others but rather in relation to others, which does not justify my fault in pursuing validation from individuals, it simply offers the perception that authentic leadership is a dynamic journey. This encourages me with my leadership development, as it ratifies the idea that this is an ever-changing process that is influenced by one’s experiences, as well as the individuals in one’s life, and requires the constant reassessment to obtain growth; it is a “narrative project” as described by Ricoeur (1992).

Overall, I believe the most productive way to tackle this weakness and promote leadership development is to consider both perspectives. On the one hand, the purpose of my actions should not be undermined simply because it was influenced by others. According to Ricoeur’s (1992) theory, the self is narrated drawing on possible selves displayed by others, which highlights the spread of authenticity. Thus, if anything, authentic leaders should narrate their true selves and openly share their values and feelings with their followers (Shamir and Eilam, 2005; Sparrowe, 2005), allowing for the expansion of authenticity. On the other hand, I need to be wary of succumbing to external pressures and instead be driven by internal cues (Avolio and Gardner, 2005; Henderson and Hoy, 1983; Kernis, 2003). To do so, I should strive to realize my consciousness of situations, known as existentialism (Lawler and Ashman, 2012). In turn, authentic leadership will be emphasized regardless of whether my purpose was influenced by others or triggered internally. The essence of this analysis in my leadership development is understanding that I can find my motives in others, as long as there is no obligation to do so and it does not stray away from my core values.

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Furthermore, it is essential to consider the context of gender bias when considering the perception of authentic leaders. This is a significant shortcoming, as, according to Angouri (2001), authenticity should be regarded as a performance, not a trait, and is performed in line with gender norms. Thus, performing authenticity parallels performing gender (Liu et al., 2015). Overcoming these contextual hurdles impose the biggest challenge in my leadership development, as these are systematic and require more than one’s inner work to break through. An incident in which this has been highlighted for me is when I was in my senior year of high school and was appointed to go as a leader on the 8th grade camp alongside a male classmate. One night, the kids in my group were acting in an impertinent manner toward the hotel staff, which went against my ethical inclinations. When trying to address their behavior, I was faced with negligible responses and dismissed by the kids. As a result, my male co-leader had to step in and impose respect, which, in contrast, was acknowledged. Eagle (2005) claims that authentic leaders are expected to support the values and seek the objectives of the group for which they are responsible. Her research displays how female leaders are perceived as belonging to an ‘outsider social group’ and hence encounter a greater strain in securing their followers’ trust and acceptance as authentic leaders. This perception of men’s authenticity as a display of authority and ambition is praised (Johansson, 2013), whilst when women attempt a similar approach, they are seen as inauthentic to their stereotypical characterization of being passive and caring.

In planning my leadership growth from this male-inclined perception of authentic leadership, I believe being aware of this disparity is the first step. Gender stereotypes serve as common expectations, or norms, that encourage conformity in both sexes (Wood and Eagly, 2012). People are aware of others' gender-relevant expectations and by conforming they usually gain social approval, whereas diverging results in social rejection (Eagly and Wood, 2017). Understanding that others are likely adhering to these biased responses to achieve social approval allows authentic leaders to continue on their journey. According to Cianci et al. (2014), authentic leaders enact “relational transparency,” making their values and standards clear to others. In hindsight, I would have stood my ground and taken a firmer approach with the kids to defend my beliefs. An alternative would be to polish my feminine identity as an authentic leader and build on my nurturing and compassionate nature (Liu et al., 2015) to approach prospective followers in future encounters. Nonetheless, as a result of many changes in recent years, the gender identities of women and men have partially converged (Donnelly and Twenge, 2016), which only gives me hope that contextual hurdles will become less and less prominent.

Luthans & Avolio (2003) use the concept of authenticity to integrate positive psychology, outlining authentic leaders as confident, hopeful, optimistic, and resilient. I believe possessing these attributes is one of the biggest strengths of my leadership ability. Namely, when I worked as a barista and had to train incoming employees, I always found that demonstrating confidence and optimism generated “trust” and “acceptance” (Eagly, 2005). Authentic leaders influence and transform their followers through these positive psychological attitudes, as they are contagious. The issue arises when confidence is seen as a male discourse of authentic leadership, as it is considered authoritative and competent (Martin and Collinson, 1998), leaving me to wonder if I would have gotten more productive responses from my followers when emulating feminine orientations of authenticity, such as democratic and transformational approaches (Mano-Negrin and Sheaffer, 2004). Nevertheless, Luthans & Avolio (2003) argue that positive psychology states, whether it is a stereotypical male or female behavior, allows authentic leaders to portray their true selves and “positively transform or develop associates into leaders themselves.”

A fruitful course of action to further my leadership development in regard to my use of positive psychology would be to adopt a daily routine to promote hope and confidence within myself. For instance, staying vigilant in finding things and people to appreciate, approaching, and confiding in others with positive enthusiasm, creating a safe space to reflect upon recent occurrences, as well as my current sense of self. The emphasis on turning inward to find the true self is found in the claim of Lutheran & Avolio (2003) that authentic leaders “remain cognizant of their own vulnerabilities and openly discuss them.” Additionally, embracing gender-based attributes may be advantageous to my development, as the people-centric approach and tendency to seek consensus are typically linked to female leadership styles, making them more adept at managing crises (Ryan et al., 2011) and may yield trust and acceptance from followers more easily (Eagly, 2005). Taking this into account, I will be mindful to remain more open and considerate of the ideas of others in my future encounters to reflect my authentic leadership. Notwithstanding, Holmes (2006) argues that adopting normatively masculine strategies in order to perform some aspects of leadership can “contribute to de-gendering them and make it clear that they are discursive tools of leadership and not exclusively of male discourse.” Thus, by acting agentic, transactional, and task-oriented (Bass et al., 1996), I would be helping to break the contextual barriers instead of having to overcome them. I believe targeting this systematic construct at its source is the most at par with my beliefs, allowing me to perform a genuine and value-based interpretation of leadership – authentic leadership (Gardner et al., 2011).

In conclusion, this discussion has established various strategies to tackle my authentic leadership development. Firstly, the pertinence of self-awareness in this journey is imperative to achieving my objectives. It is the first step to realizing where my weaknesses and strengths lie. After analyzing instances that demonstrated my leadership abilities, I believe promoting development regarding my purpose (George, 2003), values (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999), and positive psychological states (Luthans & Avolio, 2003) will strengthen my authentic leadership capacity. The alternative routes presented for my leadership development are practical, feasible, and applicable to varying scenarios in which I can display leadership. Besides, the consideration of gender bias in the perception of authentic leaders is essential when considering my individual context. The attributes associated with authentic leaders are often parallel to those of male leaders. Therefore, the course of action highlighted to address this limitation for females will be highly beneficial to my leadership development as an authentic leader.


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