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What if '"Authentic Leadership" Means Being a Jerk?

A major chord being played in business management education circles is the idea of being an authentic leader, a term I identify with Harvard Business School's Bill George. The concept is relatively simple. Leaders lead best when they do so in a way that springs from what they believe, the principles they stand for, and ways they believe are most effective.

Cool enough, until you play out the consequences a bit. Muammar Gaddafi certainly leads in a manner consistent with how he views himself and human nature. Does he get a pass for being authentic? Does the jerk down the hall in the CEO's office deserve kudos for being a true-to-his-soul megalomaniac?

Of course not. Real authentic leadership results first in benefits for those being lead and the mission of the organization, not for the benefit of the leader. But too often we offer up the excuse, "It's OK, he's being authentic."

We shouldn't accept it, and true leaders shouldn't countenance this behavior in themselves.

In a recent HBR.org blog post Authentic Leadership Can be Bad Leadership, Lauren Zander and Deborah Gruenfeld gave this advice to leaders who are poisoning their teams with authenticity.

"Hiding behind the authenticity excuse is a convenient way of avoiding the truth about who we really are, how we actually behave, and why."
To dig yourself out of this trap, they recommend a series of events aimed at getting a true reading on how your employees see your leadership, how it is to work for you, and then coming clean with yourself and those who follow you. Here's one idea to help:
"Raise the stakes. Commit to a consequence for misbehaving. If you do the difficult thing, again, what will it cost you? An offer of coffee or lunch to the "victim"? A poem of apology? The consequence should have a cost to you, but it should be constructive."
Is your boss hiding behind the "authentic" shield? What can you do to shake her out of it?

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(Photo by Flickr user Perry French, CC 2.0)
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