Displaying authentic leadership is a rare opportunity, and it is usually in response to a negative event. For example, Johnson and Johnson’s former CEO Jim Burke had the opportunity when it was discovered that Tylenol was being tampered with and was not safe. He immediately had Tylenol removed from the shelves, and the public was notified. Jim Burke showed his authenticity by putting his customers’ safety first, and he exercised his personal values and morals by prioritizing customer safety before any other corporate mitigation could occur (Champy, 2009).
Burke’s actions could be called heroic, and he is a perfect example of authentic leadership, which means he was true to his personal values and beliefs. Authentic leadership is exhibited in many ways that are not seen by the public. The benefits of this leadership concept foster ethical climates, build trust, and therefore increase productivity and quality of work (Gardner, 2013).
Personally, I have always wanted and strive to be an authentic leader, and I think it is very important that a leader is honest, transparent, and can draw upon their strengths while recognizing and working on their weaknesses (Gardner, 2013). I have seen this type of leadership exhibited repeatedly by instructors who must be brutally honest with their students to provide realistic expectations of work and ability. I once heard an instructor deter a student from taking an advanced class for which she wasn’t prepared. The student was also a friend, and when I asked her about it she was furious, but she didn’t take the class. She later praised this teacher for her respect and honesty, and she is now doing very well in the program as a result.
I’ve also worked with a physician whose actions were completely opposite of the actions of an authentic leader. He would praise nurses to their face, all the while separating them into superior and inferior employees, which he communicated to the superior nurses. Word eventually got around to the named inferior nurses, and many of the superior and inferior nurses refused to work with him. It was a problem that could not be resolved effectively and provides an example of how hard it is to be authentic once your authenticity has been determined to be lacking.
- Champy, J. (2009). Authentic leadership. Leader To Leader, 2009(54), 39-44. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=68413045-b765-49e1-b36f-8a61480aff6a%40sessionmgr4002&vid=1&hid=4101
- Gardner, W. L. (2013). Authentic leadership. In E. H. Kessler (Ed.), Encyclopedia of management theory (2), 54-56. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781452276090.n18