Arguing Against Authentic Leadership

Arguing Against Authentic Leadership

Jeffrey Pfeffer at Fortune makes the case that “authenticity” has limited value for good leaders:

First of all, authentic leadership is a construct with numerous dimensions, definitions, and measurements, which makes it impossible to study empirically.

Second, one component in many definitions is relational transparency—being honest with others so they know what you think of them. But this is often a horrible idea. A former student of mine once worked at a company that supposedly encouraged employees to share their honest feedback with others. She gave her boss at the time some (constructive) criticism. You can guess what happened next—the boss moved to get her insubordinate subordinate fired. Flattery is almost certainly a surer way of obtaining support than telling others what you honestly think of them. …

Although we often don’t like to admit it, many of the most revered and successful leaders throughout history have had hidden agendas and were willing to cut deals with ideological opponents to advance their cause. Abraham Lincoln for a time did not reveal his ultimate goal to free all the slaves in the U.S. Nor was Lincoln fully honest about the location of the Southern delegation coming to Washington to negotiate the end of the Civil War. Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa, at times advocated for violence and radical views and at other times took peace-making and pro-business positions.