The development of organizations often depends on the ability of leaders to inspire their followers and guide them through the complexities of different spheres of the economy. Authentic leadership is instrumental in achieving these goals since such leaders have the necessary qualities and skills. The existing theories have focused on different aspects of leadership, which resulted in the development of certain frameworks that are used by scholars and practitioners (Rodd, 2013).
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Now, it is clear that people can develop the skills necessary for becoming an effective leader. The concept of an authentic leader is now widely used by scholars and practitioners. Authentic leaders are people committed to facilitating the development of the communities through the focus on certain values, trust, and collaboration. To become an authentic leader, it is important to be able to identify inner strengths and the most pronounced leadership qualities, as well as some weaknesses of different leadership styles. This paper includes an analysis of three leaders involved in the educational and marketing spheres and their leadership styles.
The evaluated leaders come from different backgrounds and are involved in educational and business spheres. The three people are competent and experienced professionals although the level of their authenticity differs considerably. The leaders will be analyzed in terms of the most valuable qualities of authentic leadership that include identity, competence, morality, and inspirational potential. Although one of the people cannot be regarded as an authentic leader, the analysis of her leadership is instrumental in understanding the primary features of effective leaders.
History Teacher: An Authentic Leader
One of the leaders, also referred to as L1, was a history teacher employed at an urban medium-size high school. At the time I met her, she was in her 30s and single. The school was public, and it was characterized by an average performance rate.
The school administration tried to ensure a proper dialogue between stakeholders. Students and their parents believed that the school was an educational establishment that could prepare younger generations for further academic efforts and life in society. L1 had worked at the school for several years, and she was popular among students. When I told one of my older friends that that teacher would run my history classes, she said I was lucky. I understood what my friend meant a few days later when our history classes started.
I believe L1 can be regarded as almost a perfect authentic leader who contributed considerably to the development of the educational establishment as well as the personal success of many students. Kouzes and Posner (2007) state that leadership is a “reciprocal process” between the leader and followers, which makes the expectation of the latter central to the evaluation of leadership (p. 28).
In simple terms, the attributes of effective leaders as seen by followers turn out to be defining traits making leaders effective. According to Kouzes and Posner (2007), being inspiring and competent are the characteristics that are highly valued by followers. L1 is one of the most inspirational leaders I have known, and she is a competent professional, which makes this educator an authentic leader. Students learned a lot from this educator who did not simply share her knowledge concerning some historical events or figures but trained students to think critically and implement effective research.
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L1 inspired her students to be open-minded and broaden their horizons in many ways. She traveled a lot and had dozens of stories for the youth who listened to her with their mouths wide-open. We all dreamt about visiting other countries or new territories, and many students have made their dreams come true. L1 also managed to show the link between proper academic performance and personal life benefits, which motivated students to be diligent.
Authentic leaders are motivational, and they manage to shape their followers’ behaviors and choices (Marotz & Lawson, 2007). Importantly, although deduction was also employed, it was not the primary strategy to motivate students. The teacher shared her views and behaved accordingly, which ensured the development of trustful relationships. L1 was an authentic leader as she did not try to receive power over her followers through her authority (her position as an educator). She inspired young people, and it was quite natural for them to follow the lead of a person who was competent and reliable.
This history teacher was a competent educator who could train others effectively. The professional competence of L1 was also one of the foundations of trust that was a principal value for the leader and later her followers. Trust is one of the pillars of authentic leadership since it ensures the establishment of effective collaboration between the leader and those who followed (George, 2000; Evans, 2000). We all wanted to know history well to attain some academic goals and please the teacher. The development of relationships with followers is one of the pillars of authentic leadership (Starratt, 2004).
Authentic leaders understand the needs of their followers and try to satisfy them. In some ways, authenticity has traits of servant leadership where leaders concentrate on their followers helping them to achieve their goals (Smith, 2005; Gibbs, 2006). L1 always knew the limits of her followers and tried to push them as much as possible. She managed to make her students believe that they could achieve any goals and surmount any tops if they remained committed and authentic.
It is noteworthy that the history teacher was an authentic leader as she managed to keep the distance or certain kind of hierarchy between the one who leads and the followers. This distance is important especially when it comes to the educational sphere. Many teachers fail to maintain the hierarchy and turn into one of the followers remaining only formal leaders in many aspects. Authentic leaders secure their authority and ensure the maintenance of “predictable patterns of coordinated activity” (Starratt, 2004, p. 77).
L1 was never seen as one of us since she was always on a pedestal of the one who leads. L1 was a perfect authentic leader although she still failed to ensure all of her students’ highest performance. However, it is impossible to be equally inspirational for everyone irrespective of the chosen strategies or styles. Some followers are still less motivated or affected in a specific way due to their personality traits or personal goals.
Science Teacher: Identity as a Key Component of Authentic Leadership
To understand the qualities of an authentic leader, it can be beneficial to consider the characteristic features and actions of a person who tried to be a leader but failed to achieve this goal. The second leader (also referred to as L2) to be evaluated was a science teacher at a middle school located in an urban setting. When I met this teacher, she was in her mid-forties and divorced. She had a doctoral degree, and the faculty saw her as a competent professional especially when it came to research and science. Students shared this opinion and admitted that L2 was a talented scientist and knew almost everything when it came to species or formulas. However, this teacher was not popular among students, or rather students were not motivated to go the extra mile and work hard.
Some of the primary reasons underlying this situation are closely linked to the teacher’s identity and integrity. Palmer (1997) claims that these concepts are central to teaching practice as they define the future of the educator and their leadership. Identity is also a central component of authentic leadership as only those who know themselves can lead others (O’Loughlin, 2009; Evans, 2000).
O’Loughlin (2009) emphasizes that educators cannot be authentic leaders without understanding themselves, which makes self-reflection vital. Teachers should regularly reflect on qualities, inclinations, behaviors, and choices. According to Palmer (1997), identity is “a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make” a human being (p. 6). In simple terms, identity is a person’s true self that can be hidden from the rest of the people or even from themselves.
The latter was the case with L2 who failed to understand herself and make the right choice. She tried to be a good teacher and a leader for her students as she was a responsible and diligent educator. She seemed to perform well as she completed all the required tasks and responsibilities. She followed the existing standards and tried to make sure that the students had the necessary amount of knowledge and skills.
Importantly, she was competent in her field and had an exceptional understanding of the subject. Everyone would agree that she would make a very good or even talented scientist, but she chose to educate rather than investigate. At the same time, teaching was not the sphere where she excelled since students often failed to understand quite basic things. She used some of the common teaching strategies without trying to innovate. Students hardly ever knew anything beyond the required material and had no intention to dig deeper.
L2’s inability to understand herself translated into her inability to teach. She explained everything as if she was talking to competent scientists rather than students with their learning peculiarities and different characters. The educator seemed to be uninterested in establishing proper relationships with students or trying to understand young people’s needs and peculiarities. Palmer (1997) mentions the case when a teacher inflicted his wounds on his students and tried to make them feel embarrassed through their poor grades or failed tests. L2 did not try to make students feel bad but tended to give higher grades whenever it was possible.
This teacher’s inability to understand herself led to the situation when the educator accepted the fact that she did not have to try hard. She seemed to believe that students were simply unable to understand, so there was no worth trying. This attitude was rather destructive as students were not interested in pursuing careers related to her subject even though some young people might have had the necessary capabilities.
Integrity was also the quality L2 did not possess, which made her an ineffective leader. Evans (2000) argues that authentic leaders should align their values and their actions as well as remain committed to leading people, which is critical for their integrity.
Leaders who lack integrity tend to be rather passive and unable to bring true changes. An educational environment needs constant changes and a focus on innovation, so authentic leaders in this sphere are innovators inspiring people to push their limits. Evans (2000) also adds that leaders who postulate certain aspirations without actually believing in them will not be trusted and will never become authentic leaders. L2 did not have any commitment to innovation and rarely articulated any aspirations at all.
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L2 was far from being an authentic leader as she tried to construct a false identity and integrity. The woman chose the wrong career path as she would make a better scientist than a teacher. She failed to lead herself through the challenges her life had to offer, which made it impossible for her to lead others. L2 should have become a scientist or had to try to change her life. Nevertheless, she could still be an authentic leader if she acknowledged her identity and adjusted her teaching to her real self.
She could try to look for effective teaching strategies related to her beliefs and values. It was also possible to achieve integrity by acknowledging one’s values and goals and being committed to these principles. Instead, she tried to construct a non-existent identity. This educator was not an authentic leader although she had some attributes necessary for this kind of leadership.
Marketing Sphere: An Almost Authentic Leader
Authentic leadership can facilitate the development of an organization in any sphere including production and marketing. The third person to be evaluated in terms of his leadership style and skills is the marketing director of a private medium-sized company operating in an urban setting. The leader (also referred to as L3) was involved in the sector of food production and was employed as the marketing director.
He was in charge of up to ten people who developed marketing strategies for the existing products and participated in the process of new items development. When I met him, he was in his mid-40s, married with one child. L3 had a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, which contributed to the establishment of an image of a competent professional.
It is necessary to note that this leader had some of the major qualities of an authentic leader as he acknowledged his identity, he was competent, and he displayed some traits of a servant leader. Servant leadership presupposes the focus on relationships and meanings that are essential for the creation of a favorable working atmosphere characterized by trust and collaboration (Fry, 2003). A servant leader tries to understand and meet their employees’ needs. L3 always tried to understand the inclinations of his subordinates and help them satisfy these needs. He also helped his followers to set clear goals and choose the most effective strategies to achieve them. The marketing director was a mentor for the members of his team who learned a lot from him.
This leader was also characterized by a set of values and morals that made him a spiritual leader as well. Spiritual leadership entails “values, attitudes, and behaviors… necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership” (Fry, 2003, p. 711). L3 had such values based on major ethical standards including trust, respect, and empathy. Duignan (2013) also adds that authentic leaders in the educational sphere need to have “a clear moral purpose” and “a passionate commitment to a collective responsibility for the wellbeing of their school community” (p. 3). L3 tried to promote these values and morals among his employees.
One of the primary strategies he used to inflict these values and moral standards on his followers was his behavior. He addressed conflicts and treated all the employees based on the principles mentioned above. Furthermore, he developed policies that ensured the creation of an atmosphere that was deeply rooted in the values he had. These policies and standards were created for the department of marketing. If they were adopted by the entire company, the organization could benefit significantly.
One of the most prominent features of this leader was his focus on the moral aspect of leadership and organizational management. His commitment proved to be essential for the department, which was illustrated by the success of his projects and campaigns. L3 managed to create an effective team of like-minded people with strong values. This authentic leader believed in the positive side of the business that could make a difference and contribute to the sustainable development of the community. However, these efforts had limited success due to the peculiarities of the organizational structure and leadership.
The owner of the company, as well as other top managers, was not an authentic leader and focused on profit and revenue rather than the company’s larger impact on the development of the community. Lee (2010) notes that effective leadership can be metaphorically presented by a jazz band where leaders pass their power. The company where L3 tried to create a culture based on the highest ethical and moral standards was not a jazz band. L3 failed to inflict his values on the employees and leaders beyond his department, which resulted in his resignation.
It is possible to note that L3 was an authentic leader, but he still lacked certain skills and traits to transform the company he worked for. A truly authentic leader would manage to persuade other leaders, executives, and the owner of the business that the adherence to certain moral standards was beneficial for the organization’s development. L3 failed to transform the company due to the lack of patience and inspirational potential.
Although many employees from different departments respected L3 and admired him, the organizational culture did not change. An authentic leader would use this attitude and their department’s high performance to affect the status quo and initiate major changes in the organization. It was also possible to involve the community in the process and show the outcomes of the establishment of a strong organizational culture. L3 tried to go beyond his department and affect the entire company, but the lack of support from others and his insufficient commitment prevented him from transforming the organization.
In conclusion, it is important to state that the three leaders can serve as an illustration of the qualities an authentic leader should have. The level of authenticity differs significantly as L1 can be regarded as almost a perfect authentic leader while L2 is the least effective leader. L3 is somewhere in the middle of this range although he has all chances to be a truly authentic leader in an appropriate environment. The analysis of the qualities of these people shows the importance of such features as competence, inspirational potential, morality, and identity. A truly authentic leader can be characterized by these properties that are effectively used to inspire people and transform organizations and communities.
Notably, leadership in the educational sphere has certain peculiarities, but it also depends on the ways leaders’ qualities affect their environments. Although all of these features are essential, educators’ ability to understand their real selves is central to authentic leadership. If a teacher does not receive joy from teaching, it can be necessary to change the career path. Integrity is also vital for educators who should ensure the alignment of their values and actions. Ethical and moral values are another pillar of effective leadership in the educational setting as teachers often inflict their morals on students whose lives may be affected considerably.
This analysis has had a certain influence on my understanding of leadership. I would like to become an authentic leader who would inspire people to concentrate on the development of their communities and overall societies. I possess the basic qualities that would make me an effective authentic leader although I still have to develop my leadership skills. Now, I know perfectly well what areas require my attention, and I will try to remain committed to the established goals.
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