Authentic leadership focuses on whether leadership is genuine or "real" (Northouse, 2013). Although this theory is still in its formative phase of development, there are several ways in which it can be defined.
One way to define authentic leadership is to say that it is interpersonal; that is, it occurs when the leader maintains strong, honest relationships with his or her followers (PSU W.C. L.12). The key here is to be open with your followers and to practice what you preach. In return, followers will recognize your authenticity and work with you towards the common goal. While this sounds like a no-brainer, many business executives in recent years have missed the mark completely. Consider Ford Motor Company's former president Mark Fields for example.
Fields took over the struggling North American operations in 2005 and immediately implemented a turnaround plan he called "The Way Forward." Some of the actions taken as part of this new plan for a successful future included eliminating one fifth of the workforce (45,000 employees), closing 14 manufacturing plants, and cutting healthcare benefits for the blue collar workers that remained. His new slogan was "Change or die," and he told employees with urgency that they needed to share the sacrifices to save the company (Deutschman, 2009).
The problem with all of that is that Fields did not "walk his own walk." While urging others to follow him and make sacrifices, he enjoyed a $2.3 million bonus for cutting costs that year on top of his $3.3 million salary. Factory workers were sacrificing their healthcare benefits while Fields commuted to the company's headquarters in Detroit on the weekends from his house in Florida on the company's private jet (Deutschman, 2009). It is no wonder why no one wanted to follow him. Being an authentic leader means sharing the struggle and risks with your followers and maintaining an honest, transparent relationship. If your followers see that your actions are not in line with your stated values, they will not see you as being genuine and your leadership attempts will be likely to fail.
Another way to define authentic leadership is to say in is an intrapersonal quality that has to do with what is going on in the leader's head. It is about the leader being true to himself or herself, and also being able to self-regulate their behaviors and develop accurate self concepts (PSU W.C. L.12). One business leader who exemplifies this type of leadership is Patagonia's CEO Casey Sheahan.
Sheahan is a longtime outdoor industry veteran and enthusiast. He has always enjoyed the outdoors, and has even work as an editor for outdoor magazines such as Runner's World, Marathoner, Nordic World, and POWDER magazine. His company, Patagonia, specializes in quality outerwear and has a large vested interest in protecting the environment. He fits in perfectly with the values of the company, and he and his wife even formed the Conscious Global Leadership Institute to "share best inner practices for inspired, heart-centered leadership" (10 Most, 2012). Since being created in 1985, Patagonia's Environmental Grants Program has supported conservation causes by donating $22 million. Patagonia has also recently joined 1% for the Planet, a group of companies that pledge at least 1% of their annual sales to help promote conservationism. Clearly Sheahan has been true to his inner self--a passionate environmentalist-- and he has self-regulated his behaviors so that they are in line with his and the company's values.
Northhouse (2013) says that the emphasis of this intrapersonal perspective is the leader's life experiences and the meaning he or she attaches to those experiences. By aligning his personal experiences and values with his leadership style and Patagonia's goals, Sheahan was able to effectively demonstrate authentic leadership.
10 most ethical CEOs in corporate America. (2012, March 28). Online MBA. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.onlinemba.com/blog/10-most-ethical-ceos-in-corporate-america/
Deutschman, A. (2009, September 18). How authentic leaders 'walk the walk'. Businessweek. Retrieved April 3, 2013, from http://www.businessweek.com/managing/c
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University (PSU), (2012). Leadership in work settings. Lesson 12: Authentic Leadership. Retrieved from: https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa12/psych485/001/content/12_lesson/01_page.html