Can authentic leadership ever be bad leadership?

An article in the Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Authentic Leadership Can Be Bad Leadership’ made the point that you can use authenticity as an excuse for all kinds of bad behaviour, based on your ‘lower’ rather than your higher self!

This is so true. Many years ago, when I first encountered transformational training aimed at releasing people’s ‘true selves’ and empowering them to move beyond the barriers they placed in their own paths, I had a concern: what if a true nutter, like Hitler, attended this kind of training? Wouldn’t he be ’empowered’ and released to commit even more atrocities?

But over the years, and the course of my own self development, I’ve come to understand that ‘authenticity’ and ‘being true to yourself’ are nothing to do with simply following your feelings or indulging your baser instincts – though this is the superficial message that some people can take away. These people have made a mistake, and they pervert the real message about ‘being true to yourself’ to justify ego-driven, emotionally self-indulgent behaviour in the name of ‘authenticity’.

Once you have really connected with your true, core self, seen and understood where your darker behaviour and attributes come from, and done the work to heal the damage, you will find you can no longer find it in yourself to justify putting down another person or doing them harm. Oh, you might succumb to a mean little urge from time to time, but you’ll never again feel really comfortable doing so.

I truly believe that in the search for our true selves, we have taken a wrong turn if we believe that anything other than operating in a fair, generous, harm-free way is ever remotely justifiable, whatever our creed or belief system.

The only respect in which I’d take issue with the authors of the HBR article is that they seem to believe that, as they say, ‘what comes naturally can also get pretty nasty’. It may come naturally, but if it’s nasty, in my book, it’s not authenticity.

Are you being true to yourself in leadership?

Join the debate and let us know!