In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Authentic Leadership

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews/Literature Reviews
  • Early Work in Authentic Leadership Outside the Field of Management (Pre-2003)
  • Practitioner Works
  • Authentic Leadership Development
  • Critiques of Authentic Leadership Theory

Management Authentic Leadership
William Gardner, Mavis Tang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0104


Authentic leadership has been studied across a variety of disciplines (e.g., education, construction management, and nursing) and from numerous perspectives such as philosophy and psychology. However, the formal study of authentic leadership within the management literature can be traced to the seminal book chapter by Luthans and Avolio in 2003. From that time forward, there has been a huge increase in interest, both scholarly and practitioner, in authentic leadership. The popularity of the construct is partly due to the focus on explicating a genuine and trustworthy form of leadership that is grounded in core ethical values. As such, interest in the topic stems in part from its perceived relevance in the wake of a multitude cases of high-profile leader malfeasance. Authentic leadership is most commonly defined as “a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development” (Walumbwa, et al. 2008, cited under Empirical Research: Quantitative Research: Measurement, p. 94). As this definition suggests, the construct is most commonly conceived to encompass four core dimensions: self-awareness, balanced processing, relational transparency, and an internalized moral perspective. Authentic leadership has been linked to a number of positive outcomes, specifically leader (e.g., psychological well-being, effectiveness, ethical behavior), follower (e.g., empowerment, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, organizational citizenship behaviors, trust in leadership, work engagement) and organizational (e.g., firm financial performance, open organizational climate) outcomes, suggesting that it holds much promise for helping leaders and their organizations to more effectively address the multitude of ethical and performance challenges found in the 21st-century workplace. Although the preceding definition and core dimensions of authentic leadership represent the most prevalent perspective on the construct, there are alternative perspectives and critiques of this dominant view. Cooper, et al. 2005 (cited under Critiques of Authentic Leadership Theory) raised early concerns about the definition and the operationalization of the authentic leadership construct: Algera and Lips-Wiersma 2012 (cited under Theoretical Foundations of the Authentic Leadership Construct: Philosophical Conceptualizations of Authentic Leadership) advanced an alternative philosophical perspective of authentic leadership, and Ladkin and Spiller 2013 (cited under Authentic Leadership Books: Scholarly Books) captured some of the “clashes, convergences, and coalescences” emerging within the authentic leadership literature in an edited volume on the topic. Given the preponderance of North American–based work in the field, questions also arise about the applicability of authentic leadership principles across cultural, occupational, industrial, structural, and temporal contexts that merit investigation, as discussed in Gardner, et al. 2009, cited under Key Theoretical Advances (Post-2004 Gallup Leadership Summit). While authentic leadership is clearly related to ethical, spiritual, and transformational leadership, it is also conceptually distinct. Specifically, it is differentiated by its focus on authenticity (e.g., leaders and their followers remaining true to their values and core beliefs), and the emphasis placed in self-awareness, balanced processing, relational transparency, and an internalized moral perspective. The explicit and complementary relationship with positive organizational behaviors such as confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience is also unique to authentic leadership theory according to Avolio and Gardner 2005, cited under Key Theoretical Advances (Post-2004 Gallup Leadership Summit).

General Overviews/Literature Reviews

A number of narrative reviews are available that provide an overview of the authentic leadership literature. The most comprehensive is Gardner, et al. 2011, which traces the roots and evolution of authentic leadership theory, reviews the extant empirical research, and proposes an agenda for future research. A concise summary of the field and focal streams of research is provided in Caza and Jackson 2011.

  • Avolio, Bruce J., and Ketan H. Mhatre. “Advances in Theory and Research on Authentic Leadership.” In The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Edited by K. S. Cameron and G. M. Spreitzer, 773–783. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Reviews the theoretical underpinnings of authentic leadership theory, presents the varying conceptualizations of the authentic leadership construct, provides an overview of the empirical research within the field, and synthesizes the literature to offer future research directions.

  • Avolio, Bruce J., and Fred O. Walumbwa. “Authentic Leadership Theory, Research, and Practice: Steps Taken and Steps that Remain.” In The Oxford Handbook of Leadership and Organizations. Edited by David V. Day, 331–356. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Provides a review of the development of the authentic leadership construct and early-21st-century empirical work related to a variety of performance and ethical outcomes. Future directions for the study of authentic leadership are discussed. Argues that future research should model the components of authentic leadership reflectively, while the higher-order authentic leadership construct should be modeled formatively.

  • Caza, Arran, and Brad Jackson. “Authentic Leadership.” In The Sage Handbook of Leadership. Edited by Alan Bryman, David L. Collinson, Keith Grint, Brad Jackson, and Mary Uhl-Bien, 352–364. London: SAGE, 2011.

    This narrative review describes the origins and motivation for authentic leadership theory, the major consequences and mechanisms of authentic leadership, reviews key empirical studies, and explores opportunities, questions, and concerns pertaining to the construct.

  • Gardner, William L., and James Carlson. “Authentic Leadership.” In International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2d ed. Edited by J. D. Wright, 245–250. Oxford: Elsevier, 2015.

    A brief overview of authentic leadership theory that highlights the historical evolution of the construct, presents competing definitions, describes the core components of authentic leadership (as well as its key antecedents and outcomes), and emphasizes the importance of authentic leadership development.

  • Gardner, William L., Claudia C. Cogliser, Kelly M. Davis, and Matthew P. Dickens. “Authentic Leadership: A Review of the Literature and Research Agenda.” The Leadership Quarterly 22 (2011): 1120–1145.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.09.007

    Comprehensive review of the extant authentic leadership literature that traces the development of the authentic leadership construct and major milestones in the advancement of the field, examines and critiques the available empirical research, identifies the nomological network for authentic leadership, and proposes an agenda for future research.

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