Much has been made in recent times of the Authentic Leadership trend.  The first time I heard the term it raised an interesting question. What if you are authentically a bad person?

Calm down, lovers of authentic leadership, I know that some strands of the authentic leadership movement focus on appointing ethical, honest people to leadership roles.  Companies psych test thousands of potential leaders thousands of people through our assessment portal to ensure that their leaders are honourable and ethical people, and so they should.

Research shows that there are times when it is good leadership to be inauthentic.  Here are just two evidence based examples.  These findings come from our 2015 study of leader behaviours which cause engagement and have also been found internationally.

  • If you want energised, engaged employees, the most powerful thing you can do is to give them the authority to make more of their own decisions. So, even if you authentically believe you have the right answers, it is good leadership to back solutions which come from the staff.  Engagement beats intellectual purity every time.
  • If you are authentically pessimistic, don’t show it. We found that the second most important leadership characteristic to create engagement is a sense of positivity and optimism.  Not the “don’t worry, be happy” type of optimism which says that everything will be fine, but a sense of what Albert Bandura called “self efficacy”.  This is when a leader says, “No matter what happens, we will cope and we will get a good outcome”.  Leaders acting pessimistically or negatively is a culture killer.

From the study mentioned above we created a 360 degree feedback tool which assesses these and eight other leadership behaviours which contribute to higher levels of engagement amongst staff.  Click on the link to find out more.

The key point is that good leadership is sometimes good acting.  I wonder how the second world war would have turned out for Britain if Winston Churchill had authentically told everyone about the depression and sense of foreboding which seized him from time to time during the conflict.  Britons may well have still been discussing the point today – in German.

Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Andrew Marty