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Personal Authenticity and Leadership

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

To lead, one must first lead themselves (Manz, 1986, p. 587). Leading oneself is the process of becoming aware of one’s internal affairs and gaining personal authenticity. The study of authenticity outlines a variety of mental and behavioral processes that show how individuals discover, develop, and construct a core sense of self. Authenticity researchers often argue that authenticity involves a combination of action. The research community tend to prioritize action over thought when examining the degree of personal authenticity. The existing literature examines the origin of thought and action and distinguishes from what might be from the core self or a byproduct of social norms and pressures.

Personal authenticity is a byproduct of affective, cognitive, and behavioral elements that dictates one's decisions and reactions on both individual and societal levels. Even though personal authenticity is a byproduct of internal processes, it also has an explicit moral dimension. The choice to be authentic or otherwise impacts the quality of one's interactions, relationships, and leadership. This paper defines personal authenticity as a trait and a process. As a process, personal authenticity reflects how one reacts to outside stimuli by engaging in internal feedback. As a trait, personal authenticity is the choice to adhere to core values. The following section provides an account how authenticity manifest in the leadership domain.

Personal Authenticity Through the Lens of Kernis & Goldman

Kernis and Goldman (2006) defined authenticity as the “unobstructed operation of one’s true‐ or core‐self in one’s daily enterprise” (p. 294). Authenticity is more than a single unitary process but four interrelated components, (a) awareness, (b) unbiased processing (c) behavior, and (d) relational orientation . The awareness component refers to the motivation to increase self‐relevant cognitions that leads to trust in one’s thoughts, feelings, and desires. For instance, the understanding of feeling anxious or depressed or the degree of motivation to lose weight. The authors theorized that gaining self-knowledge promotes the integration of one’s “inherent polarities” into a coherent self‐representation (Kernis & Goldman, 2006, p. 294). Therefore, awareness is the first step to fostering self‐integration and acceptance of self. As integration and acceptance of self increases more information will become accessible. The way individuals attain self‐knowledge to improve integration and acceptance of self is through the second component.

The second component of authenticity entails the unbiased processing of self‐relevant information . This component involves objectivity with respect to one’s positive and negative self‐aspects, emotions, in addition, to not denying, distorting, or exaggerating externally based evaluative information. In summary, unbiased processing is the individual’s attempt at minimizing interpretive distortions in the processing of gaining self-knowledge. The individual with high ability of unbiased processing tends to have less self‐serving biases and illusions. The third component of authenticity involves behaving based on one’s values without the consideration of pleasing others. In essence, this component reflects the behavioral output of the awareness and unbiased processing in the form of actions. There is a possibility that the person who adheres to behaviors that are aligned with their true self might encounter social sanctions. In such instances, the authenticity will reflect heightened sensitivity to the fit or lack thereof between one’s true‐self and the environment which provides the potential implications of one’s behavioral choices. In contrast, absence of authenticity is a byproduct of blind obedience to environmental forces.

Authentic Leadership

Walumbwa et al. (2008) defined authentic leaders self-aware, open, and clear regarding whom they are while acting according to their values and beliefs (p. 103). While authentic leadership and personal authenticity are two different concepts, they share several common fundamental themes. Authentic leadership principles of self-awareness, self-regulation, relational transparency, internalized moral perspective serve to develop personal authenticity. Additionally, Avolio (2004) argued that authentic leaders act as role models with integrity and personal authenticity (p. 807). Besides the leader's internal developmental benefits, authentic leadership improves job satisfaction, task performance, and better follower-leader relationship. Metacognitive monitoring is a starting point in building personal authenticity and authentic leadership skills.

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