The Impact of Authentic Leadership on Change

An empty coffee cup sitting amongst beans and a full coffee cup sitting on the table

People crave stability, yet leaders drive change. It’s one of the greatest quandaries of leading people. Followers want to know where they stand, to have certainty about the expectations, and to feel a sense of stability about their situation. These conditions create an atmosphere of safety that frees followers up, mentally and emotionally, to invest their energy into their work. Yet leaders have a mandate to drive change—to evolve themselves, their followers, and the organization in preparation for future competitive realities. How do we reconcile these seemingly competing realities?

Perhaps the best answer is “trust.”

Followers who trust their leaders are more likely to move out of their productive comfort zones into zones of uncertainty, change, and even temporary losses in productivity. How, then, do we develop trust with followers?

“Authentic” leaders are generally more effective in developing trust with their followers.

What is “authentic leadership”? There are several approaches to and definitions of authentic leadership. Some of the important characteristics are:1

  • Leading from conviction
  • Leading in relationship with followers
  • Awareness of personal values and human ethics
  • Relational transparency

My own definition of authentic leadership is “leading with humility, transparency, honesty, and integrity in relationships of respect.”

Are authentic leaders really better at leading change?

Seyyed Babak Alavi and Carol Gill recently published an article in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies2 suggesting that follower cynicism is a significant roadblock to change and that authentic leaders are more effective in eroding this cynicism because authentic leaders build trust with followers. A “trustful environment may decrease the impact of cynicism for change among followers”.3

Alavi and Gill presented seven propositions supporting this connection.4

Authentic leadership practiced by a change leader:

  1. Negatively influences follower (employees and/or managers) cynicism for change,
  2. Improves followers’ commitment to change,
  3. Can enhance follower readiness for change,
  4. Fosters followers’ participation in change initiatives and decision making during change processes,
  5. Fosters followers’ support for a coalition for change,
  6. Increases follower change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior, and
  7. Enhances organizational learning processes within a change context.

Imagine a complex change scenario that you’ve experienced. Perhaps you’re in the midst of one now. Perhaps you’re the leader on the hotseat with one one group of people wondering, “Can he do this? Can he pull the troops through this change to where we need to be?” And there’s another group wondering, “What is he doing? I like it where I am! Do we have to mix things up again?

Go back through that list of propositions above and ask yourself for each statement, “Would this help me navigate change?

You know the answer is Yes!

How authentic is your leadership? Are you humble? Transparent? Honest? Do you lead with integrity? Do you have relationships of respect with your followers?

These are the keys to being an authentic leader and to leading change.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Credits
Photo by PICSELI. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

Notes:
1: Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2013. p. 254.
2: Alavi, Seyyed Babak & Gill, Carol. “Leading Change Authentically: How Authentic Leaders Influence Follower Response to Complex Change.” Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies 24 (2017): 151-171. doi: 10.1177/1548051816664681
3: Alavi & Gill, p. 162, para. 5.
4: Alavi & Gill, pp. 163-168.

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