In this paper, we first develop the concepts of authentic leaders, authentic leadership, and authentic leader development. We suggest a definition of authentic leaders, which is based on the leader’s self-concept: his or her
self-knowledge, self-concept clarity, self-concordance, and person-role merger, and on the extent to which the
leader’s self-concept is expressed in his or her behavior. Following, we offer a life-story approach to the
development of authentic leaders. We argue that authentic leadership rests heavily on the self-relevant meanings
the leader attaches to his or her life experiences, and these meanings are captured in the leader’s life-story. We
suggest that self-knowledge, self-concept clarity, and person-role merger are derived from the life-story. Therefore,
the construction of a life-story is a major element in the development of authentic leaders. We further argue that the
life-story provides followers with a major source of information on which to base their judgments about the
leader’s authenticity. We conclude by drawing some practical implications from this approach and presenting
suggestions for further research.
D 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Authentic leadership; Leadership development; Life-story; Self-concept clarity; Self-expression
writers on the topic. Authentic leaders are portrayed as possessing self-knowledge and a personal point
of view, which reflects clarity about their values and convictions. They are also portrayed as identifying
strongly with their leadership role, expressing themselves by enacting that role, and acting on the basis of
their values and convictions. Any discussion of authentic leader development has to focus on how these
characteristics are developed.
Here, we suggest that leaders acquire these characteristics by constructing, developing and revising
their life-stories. Life-stories can provide leaders with a bmeaning systemQ from which they can act
authentically, that is interpret reality and act in a way that gives their interpretations and actions a
personal meaning (Kegan, 1983, p. 220). Therefore, leaders are authentic to the extent that they act and
justify their actions on the basis of the meaning system provided by their life-stories. This suggestion
implies a shift of focus from the current emphasis on the development of skills and behavioral styles to
an emphasis on leaders’ self-development, and especially to the development of their self-concepts
through to the construction of life-stories.
We develop these arguments in this article. However, in view of the lack of accepted definitions for
the term authentic leadership, and in view of the possibility that it will be defined too broadly so that it
simply replaces such terms as good leadership, moral leadership or effective leadership, it is necessary to
start by clarifying our own terms.
- Authentic leaders and authentic leadership—clarification of terms
We believe that in order for the term authentic leadership to have an added value and be useful,
it has to be different than other terms commonly used in the leadership literature. In this regard,
definitions that encompass positive leadership qualities that are not directly related to the term
authenticity, e.g. developing the leader’s associates, or are covered by other leadership concepts, e.g.
transformational leadership, may be too broad and non-distinctive to be useful. To be distinctive and
useful, the term authentic leadership has to draw attention to aspects of leadership that have not
been strongly emphasized by other leadership terms and models.
We start with the term authentic leader, because it is less complex than the term authentic leadership,
and because any concept of authentic leadership has to include an authentic leader as one of its
1.1. Authentic leaders
All definitions are arbitrary. They reflect choices and cannot be proved or validated. Our own
choices are based on the dictionary meaning of the term authentic, namely dgenuineT doriginalT dnot a
fakeT, and on those aspects of the term authentic leader, which seem to be shared by other writers
who use this term. Following, we suggest that the main defining characteristics of authentic leaders
- Authentic leaders do not fake their leadership. They do not pretend to be leaders just because
they are in a leadership position, for instance as a result of an appointment to a management
position. Nor do they work on developing an image or persona of a leader. Performing a
leadership function and related activities are self-expressive acts for authentic leaders. It is part of
what they feel to be their dtrueT or drealT self. In other words, when enacting the leadership role,
authentic leaders are being themselves (as opposed to conforming to others’ expectations).
- Relatedly, authentic leaders do not take on a leadership role or engage in leadership activities for
status, honor or other personal rewards. Rather, they lead from a conviction. They have a valuebased
cause or a mission they want to promote, and they engage in leadership in order to promote
this cause or mission. The first two defining characteristics mean that leadership is a eudaimonic
activity for authentic leaders. The term eudaimonia originates from Aristotle and means being true
to one’s true self (daimon). The state of eudaimonia occurs when people’s life activities are
congruent with their deeply held values (see the discussion by Ilies, Morgeson, & Nahrgang, 2005
in this Special Issue). According to recent writers (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Seligman, 2002; Waterman,
1993), when people are eudaimonically motivated, they are fully engaged both in their own selfactualization
and in using their virtues, talents and skills in the service of the greater good. That is,
authentic leaders are interested not only in being all that they can be but also in making a
- Authentic leaders are originals, not copies. This does not mean that they are necessarily unique or
very different from each other in their personality traits. Furthermore, their values, convictions, cause
or mission may be similar in content to those of other leaders and followers. However, the process
through which they have arrived at these convictions and causes is not a process of imitation. Rather,
they have internalized them on the basis of their own personal experiences. They hold their values to
be true not because these values are socially or politically appropriate, but because they have
experienced them to be true.
Of course, leaders are social beings and therefore influenced by societal norms and values,
parental and peer socialization, schooling, role models, and other social influences. Therefore,
the content of their values and convictions is not likely to be entirely original. However, they
have not been passive recipients of these social inputs. They have made these values and
conviction highly personal through their lived experiences, experienced emotions, and an active
process of reflection on these experiences and emotions. We believe this is what is meant by
authenticity as the bowningQ of one’s personal experiences (Harter, 2002; Luthans & Avolio,
This idea is captured by Bennis who wrote that bLeadership without perspective and point of view
isn’t leadership—and of course it must be your own perspective, your own point of view. You
cannot borrow a point of view any more than you can borrow someone else’s eyes. It must be
authentic, and if it is, it will be original, because you are originalQ (1992, p. 122). To summarize
this point, even when authentic leaders occupy a position in an organization that has been occupied
by others or is occupied by others who hold identical positions (a battalion commander, a store
manager, etc.) they operate from a personal point of view. This point of view does not have to be
dramatically different from the point of view of others who hold or held that position, but it has to
be personal in the sense that it has developed from personal experiences, personal reflection and
- Authentic leaders are leaders whose actions are based on their values and convictions. What they say
is consistent with what they believe, and their actions are consistent with both their talk and their
beliefs. Because they act in accordance to their values and beliefs rather than to please an audience,
gain popularity or advance some personal or narrow political interest, authentic leaders can be
characterized as having a high level of integrity. Because their talk and actions are consistent with
their beliefs and values, they can also be characterized as being highly transparent (see Gardner,
Avolio, Luthans, May, & Walumbwa, 2005 in this issue).
Note that our conceptualization of authentic leaders does not include anything about their
leadership style. In that, it differs from most previous typologies of leaders. For instance,
transformational leadership theory (Bass, 1998) emphasizes certain leader behaviors. While authentic
transformational leaders may be more effective than inauthentic transformational leaders (Avolio,
Gardner, Walumbwa, Luthans, & May, 2004), our conceptualization implies that transformational
leadership is not synonymous with authentic leadership. Transformational leaders can be authentic
or inauthentic and non-transformational leaders can be authentic. Nor does our conceptualization say
anything about the content of the leader’s values or convictions. In that, it is narrower than some
definitions of authentic leaders (e.g., Luthans & Avolio, 2003), which include considerations of
morality that are not derived directly from the concept of authenticity.
Rather, the defining characteristics listed above imply that we define authentic leaders on the basis of
their self-concepts and the relationships between their self-concepts and their actions. More specifically,
if we translate the above-mentioned criteria to self-concept attributes, we can define authentic leaders as
people who have the following attributes:
- The role of the leader is a central component of their self-concept. They have achieved a high personrole
merger (Turner, 1978). They do not necessarily have to use the term leader to define themselves.
They may use other terms (e.g., dfreedom fighterT Mandela, 1994) but these terms imply a leadership
role, and they think of themselves in terms of that role and enact that role at all times, not only when
they are officially din roleT.
- They have achieved a high level of self-resolution (Turner, 1976) or self-concept clarity, which
refers to the extent to which one’s self-beliefs are clearly and confidently defined and internally
consistent (Campbell et al., 1996). High self-concept clarity implies strongly held values and
convictions and a stable sense of self-knowledge, which several writers (e.g., Bennis, 2003; Luthans
& Avolio, 2003) regard as attributes of authentic leaders. The importance of self-concept clarity for
authentic leadership derives from the fact that people’s self-views reside at the center of their
psychological universe, providing the context for all other knowledge. As people become more
certain of their self-conceptions, they are more inclined to rely on these conceptions to organize
their experiences, predict future events, and guide behavior (Swann, 1990). For these reasons,
stable and coherent self-concepts provide authentic leaders with a critically important source of
coherence, and a framework for defining their existence, organizing experience, predicting future
events, and guiding social interactions (Swann & Schroeder, 1995; Swann, Rentfrow, & Quinn,
- Their goals are self-concordant. This means that they are motivated by goals that represent their
actual passions as well as their central values and beliefs (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999; Sheldon &
Houser-Marko, 2001). In contrast, non-concordant goals are ones that are pursued with a sense of
bhaving toQ, as the person does not really bownQ the goals or believe in them. Authentic leaders are
self-concordant individuals, namely people who pursue life goals with a sense that they express
their authentic choices rather than externally imposed duties or conventions. In other words, the
authentic leader is motivated by internal commitment, which, in the final analysis is a commitment
to a self-concept (Shamir, Arthur, & House, 1993).
- Their behavior is self-expressive. It is consistent with their self-concepts and is primarily motivated by
- components of the self-concepts such as values and identities rather than by calculations or expected
- benefits. One implication of behaving in a self-expressive manner is that authentic leaders are likely to
- seek self-verification more than self-enhancement in their interactions with others, including
- followers. According to self-verification theory and related findings (Swann, 1990; Swann &
- Schroeder, 1995), the more people rely on their actual selves to guide their behavior, the higher their
- striving for self-verification. Furthermore, the more people have a coherent and stable self-concept,
- the more they derive a sense of prediction and control from self-verifying rather than from selfenhancing
- feedback and evaluations and the more they seek social interactions with others who
- corroborate their self-view rather than with others who provide them with the most positive
- evaluations or feedback (Swann, Stein-Seroussi, & Giesler, 1992). This implies that authentic leaders
- do not seek the most admiring followers but rather followers who increase the leader’s sense of
- authenticity by confirming his or her self-concept.
- To summarize, our definition of authentic leaders implies that authentic leaders can be distinguished
- from less authentic or inauthentic leaders by four self-related characteristics: 1) The degree of personrole
- merger i.e. the salience of the leadership role in their self-concept, 2) The level of self-concept
- clarity and the extent to which this clarity centers around strongly held values and convictions, 3) The
- extent to which their goals are self-concordant, and 4) The degree to which their behavior is consistent
- with their self-concept.
- 1.2. Development of authentic leaders
- Our concept of authentic leaders implies that authentic leader development has four components:
- Development of a leader identity as a central component of the person’s self-concept.
- Development of self-knowledge and self-concept clarity, including clarity about values and
- Development of goals that are concordant with the self-concept.
- Increasing self-expressive behavior, namely consistency between leader behaviors and the leader’s
- For the present purposes, we assume that authentic leader development is beneficial. This assumption
- is not based on the positive value currently attached to the term authenticity. Rather, it is based on the
- belief that authentic leaders are more effective than inauthentic leaders. This belief is based, in turn, on
- two arguments. First, we believe the leader role is a highly challenging role, which requires a high level
- of energy, resolve and persistence. To lead effectively, especially when leadership involves the
- introduction and guidance of societal or organizational changes, people need to overcome resistance,
- deal with frustrations and setbacks, sometimes make personal sacrifices, recruit support, and energize
- others. Dealing with such challenges requires a source of inner strength. To find the motivation to lead
- and the energy to persist in the face of obstacles and setbacks, leaders need to operate from strong
- convictions and a high level of self-concept clarity. As Swann (1990, pp. 414–415) puts it, bstable selfconceptions
- act like the rudder of a ship, bolstering people’s confidence in their ability to navigate
- through the sometimes murky seas of everyday lifeQ.
For instance, in a recent interview, HP chairperson and CEO, Carly Fiorina was asked where she
found the strength and the courage to deal with the strong resistance she had faced in her move to merger
Compaq with HP. Here is part of her reply:
b. . .I think leadership takes what I call a strong internal compass. And I use the term compass
because what does a compass do? When the winds are howling, and the storms are raging, and the
sky is cloudy so you have nothing to navigate by, a compass tells you where true North is. And I think
when a person is in a difficult situation, a lonely situation. . . you have to rely on that compass. Who
am I? What do I believe? Do I believe we’re doing the right things for the right reasons in the right
way? And sometimes that’s all you haveQ (In conversation with Louise Kehoe, July 21, 2003).
It is reasonable to assume that leaders who are authentic in the sense discussed here, namely possess a
psychologically central leader identity, have self-concordant goals and high self-concept clarity, and
express themselves in their leadership role are more likely than inauthentic leaders to find the inner
strength and internal compass to support them and guide them when dealing with their challenges. This
is our first ground for associating authentic leaders with leader effectiveness.
In addition, authentic leader development is beneficial because of its effects on followers (Avolio et
al., 2004; Gardner et al., 2005). Among other things, it may contribute to the development of authentic
followership, which is an important component of authentic leadership and has additional benefits, as
discussed in the following section.
1.3. Authentic leadership
So far, we have only discussed the concept of authentic leaders. However, equating authentic
leadership with authentic leaders is not satisfactory for two reasons. First, it may result in identifying
authentic leadership primarily on the basis of the leader’s subjective experiences and convictions. This is
because the self is a subjective phenomenon. It is impossible to know what is the dtrueT or drealT self or
whether such a real self exists. It is only possible to know whether the person experiences his or her
actions as stemming from his or her real self or as consistent with his or her true self (Turner, 1976).
However, as argued by Adorno (1973), a purely subjective concept of authenticity would include
instances of dhonestT self-delusion, in our case of leaders who truly believe they have been endowed with
special qualities not possessed by ordinary mortals and who act on the basis of such a belief. History has
shown that such leaders can be very dangerous. If we want to exclude such instances from our definition
of authentic leadership, we have to broaden the definition so that it refers not only to attributes of the
leaders but also to attributes of their relationship with followers (Also refer to Gardner et al., 2005’s
discussion of this point in this special issue).
Second, and more fundamentally, leadership does not consist only of leaders, and therefore authentic
leadership cannot consist only of authentic leaders. Leadership is always a relationship between leader
and followers (e.g., Hollander, 1992; Howell & Shamir, 2005). Therefore, to clarify our construct of
authentic leadership we have to bring the followers into the picture. We therefore suggest that for a fuller
definition of authentic leadership, the term authenticity should be applied not only to the leaders but also
to the followers and to the relationship between the followers and the leader as done in this special issue
by Gardner et al. (2005). Following, we suggest that, in addition to authentic leaders, authentic
leadership includes authentic followership as well, namely followers who follow the leaders for
authentic reasons and have an authentic relationship with the leader. More specifically, by authentic
followership we mean:
- Followers who follow the leader for authentic reasons, that is because they share the leader’s, beliefs,
values and convictions, the leader’s concerns, and the leader’s definition of the situation rather than
because of coercion, normative pressures or the expectation of personal rewards.
- Followers who do not have illusions or delusions about the leader and do not follow the leader
because such illusions provide them with a false sense of safety. Rather, they exercise their own
independent judgment about the leader and the leader’s actions. Such followers have a realistic view
of the leader’s strengths and weaknesses and do not follow him or her blindly.
- Followers who authenticate the leader. By that we mean:
a. Followers who judge the leader’s claim for leadership as based on personally held deep values and
convictions rather than on mere conventions of an appointed office or the desire for personal power,
status or other benefits.
b. Followers who judge the leader’s behaviors as consistent with his or her beliefs, values and
Following from the previous discussion, the development of authentic leadership does not depend
only on the existence or development of authentic leaders but also on followers who authenticate the
leader and follow him or her authentically. Furthermore, the authentication of the leader by the followers
is an important element in authentic leadership development because it reinforces the leader’s
authenticity. According the self-verification theory (Swann, De La Ronde, & Hixon, 1994; Swann,
Rentfrow, & Quinn, 2003) people associate self-verifying evaluations with feelings of authenticity and
psychological coherence. Thus, leaders’ self-concept clarity and sense of authenticity depend to a
considerable extent on the authentication of their leadership by their followers.
In the remaining of this article, we focus mainly on the development of authentic leaders, though we
also attend briefly to the process by which followers authenticate the leader. The topics of authentic
followership and the development of authentic followership will no be addressed here in full (For a
broader definition of authentic leadership as a process that involves both leaders and followers, see
Luthans & Avolio, 2003 and Gardner et al., 2005).
We focus here mainly on the development of authentic leaders for three reasons: First, it is a narrower
and less complex topic than the full development of authentic leadership. Second, authentic leaders are a
necessary component of authentic leadership, and therefore clarifying the process of authentic leader
development is a necessary step toward a fuller understanding of authentic leadership development.
Third, we believe that the existence or development of authentic leaders increases the likelihood (though
by no means guarantees) of the development of authentic followership. There are reasons to expect
authentic leadership to be contagious. Leaders who are authentic may serve as role models to their
followers. They may give license or even encourage others to behave authentically as well. For instance,
transparent leaders who admit their weaknesses and expose their vulnerability may encourage followers
to behave in a similar manner because trusting others is likely to be reciprocated. Thus, our second
reason for regarding authentic leader development as beneficial is that such leaders are less likely to
produce blind followership and more likely to produce authentic followership as defined above.
After clarifying our terms, and in view of the considerations presented above, the remaining part of
this paper is devoted to the argument that the development of authentic leaders is achieved through the development of their life-stories and that the life-story is a major way by which followers authenticate their leaders.
- The role of life-stories in the development of authentic leaders
2.1. Life-stories as a source of self-knowledge and self-concept clarity
We defined authentic leaders as having, among other things, self-knowledge and self-concept clarity.
Our thesis is that they achieve such knowledge and clarity through the development of a life-story.
Self-knowledge consists, first of all, of the answers the person gives himself or herself to the question
bWho am I?Q According to the bnarrative mode of knowingQ (Bruner, 1986), these answers are often
organized in the form of life-stories. Life-stories express the storytellers’ identities, which are products of
the relationship between life experiences and the organized stories of these experiences. Author Isak
Dinesen is quoted as saying: bto be a person is to have a story to tellQ (Simmons, 2002). Several authors
(e.g. Bruner, 1991; Gergen & Gergen, 1986, McAdams, 1990) advocate that personal narratives are
people’s identities because the life-story represents an internal model of bwho I was, who I am (and
why), and who I might becomeQ. Identity is a story created, told, revised and retold throughout life
(Pallus, Nasby, & Easton, 1991). We know or discover ourselves, and reveal ourselves to others, by the
stories we tell about ourselves (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, 1998, p. 70).
Leaders’ life-stories are self-narratives. According to Gergen & Gergen (1986), self-narratives brefer
to the individual’s account of the relationships among self-relevant events across time. In developing a
self-narrative the individual attempts to establish coherent connections among life events. Rather than
seeing one’s life as simply done damned thing after anotherT the individual attempts to understand life
events as systematically related. They are rendered highly intelligible by locating them in a sequence or
dunfolded processT. One’s present identity is thus not a sudden and mysterious event, but a sensible result
of a life-storyQ (p. 255).
In other words, highly developed self-knowledge in terms of a life-story provides the authentic leader
with self-concept clarity because it organizes life events into a gestalt structure that establishes
connections between those events so that the person’s life is experienced as a coherent unfolding
process. Furthermore, the life-story provides the authentic leader with a bmeaning systemQ, from which
to feel, think, and act. It enables him or her to analyze and interpret reality in a way that gives it a
personal meaning (Kegan, 1983, p. 220).
Life-stories provide authentic leaders with a self-concept that can be expressed through the leadership
role. For instance, they provide the leader with knowledge and clarity about their values and convictions.
This is captured by Pearce (2003), who writes: bYour passion about what you want to change grows
from the foundation of values that have been formed by your life experience. These values are vital to
you personally, not because they are socially acceptable, although they might be—and certainly not
because they look good on a plaque on the wall, but because you have actually experienced them to be
trueQ (p. 18) and bEvery idea you hold passionately has a background in your personal experienceQ (p.
21). As an example, Pearce brings Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks who watched his father
losing jobs because of ill health and being worn down by the system: bAs a kid, I never had any idea that
I would one day head a company. But I knew in my heart that if I was ever in a position where I could
make a difference, I wouldn’t leave people behindQ (Schultz & Young, 1997
2.2. Life-stories as self-justifications
Another defining characteristic of authentic leaders is a high person-role merger. For authentic
leaders, the role and the self are relatively undifferentiated (Gardner & Avolio, 1998). Enacting the
leadership role is in itself a form of self-expression for the authentic leader (Bennis, 1992). For that to
happen, the leader must believe he or she has not only the ability but also the right to play a leadership
role. In other words, to lead authentically, leaders need to justify to themselves the social position they
claim for themselves, and their sense of self-confidence, self-efficacy, and knowing better than others
where to go or what to do.
It is through life experiences and the way they are organized into life-stories that people can
develop a self-concept of a leader that supports and justifies their leadership role because the lifestory
not only recounts but also justifies. Life-stories are not only dwho am IT stories but also dwhy
am I hereT stories (Simmons, 2002). They include at least implied answers to the questions, bhow
have I become a leader?Q and bwhy have I become a leader?Q In other words, in constructing their
life-stories leaders explain and justify their present self, which includes their leadership motivations
bfor, more than many forms of speech, autobiographical discourse expresses more directly than
other discourses one’s sense of self, identity, and motivation for acting in the worldQ (Illouz, 2003,
Evidence in support of this claim can be found in a recent study by Shamir, Dayan-Horesh, &
Adler (2005) who carried out a study of leadership development themes in leaders’ life stories in order
to examine how leaders’ life stories account for and justify their leadership. Their purpose was not to
study specific individuals in their particular context, but to discover broad leadership development
themes that transcend particular contexts. For this reason, they used two very different types of life
stories: leaders’ published autobiographies and interviews with leaders. Eleven autobiographies of
recognized leaders in the political, military, and business spheres were read. The autobiographies were
deliberately selected to represent a variety of spheres of influence, gender, and cultural origins. Sixteen
in-depth interviews with organizational leaders were conducted. Interviewees were relatively young (in
their 30 s) managers from medium to large size high-tech organizations who were identified by their
organizations as high performers who have already demonstrated leadership qualities and have further
potential for leadership.
Shamir et al. used the narrative method (Lieblich et al. 1998) to analyze the leader’s life stories. The
narrative method views individual descriptions, explanations, and interpretations of actions and events as
lenses through which to access the meaning which human beings attribute to their experience.
Following, Shamir et al. approached the stories as bdepositories of meaningQ (Gabriel, 2000, p. 15) and
read them from the perspective of asking about the meaning of the story from a leadership development
point of view. Their aim was to distil from the many stories they studied the central themes of leadership
development. To perform this process, they read and re-read the life stories produced by both methods of
data collection and tried to identify major themes of leadership development that emerge from the
stories. This was done in an iterative manner until some saturation was achieved in the sense that no
other major categories were identified. Further details about the method can be found in Shamir et al.
They found that accounts of leadership development in leaders’ life stories are organized around four
major themes or proto-stories: leadership development as a natural process, leadership development out
of struggle and hardship, leadership development as finding a cause, and leadership development as a
learning process. All four themes serve as bases for authentic leadership. In the remaining of this section
we substantiate this claim and offer examples from the life-stories interviews, which are not reported by
Shamir et al. (2005).
2.3. Leadership development as a natural process
This story manifested itself either as a story of a born leader whose leadership was evident from a very
early age or as a story of a dlate bloomerT who had inherent talents and tendencies that were discovered
when the opportunity presented itself.
The perception of being a natural leader provides a potential basis for authentic leadership as the terms
natural and authentic are closely linked (as are the terms artificial and inauthentic). Stories of leadership
development as a natural development have a quality of obviousness, sometimes an almost fatalistic
quality. The obviousness of the leader’s leadership and the fact that in many cases the life-story indicates
that it had been manifested in his or her being dspecialT in some respects from an early age, provide
dproofsT that the leader indeed has the ability to lead and the right to lead. Here are two examples from
the life-stories interviews:
bIt is a sort of a tendency that was inherent in me. At certain stages of life, I wasnTt aware of that,
but with time you become aware of it and even try to reinforce it. . . It is something that is built-in, I
canTt explain why, I just know it is built-in, as if it was obviousQ.
bIt is not that it comes from the outside. . . I never fought for it. . . it simply came. . . I also love it, I
cannot live without it. . . I have to, I must lead Q.
2.4. Leadership development out of struggle
These stories stand in contrast with the harmonious story of natural development. In these cases,
leadership development is attributed to what Bennis and Thomas (2002) have called dcruciblesT or
defining experiences, usually ordeals that transformed the person. In such stories, the motivation to lead
is often attributed to the need to overcome some injustice (e.g., stemming from a disadvantageous ethnic
or economic background). They also often contain a moral element stemming from the fact that the
reported life experiences offered easier, but less moral, ways of coping (e.g., becoming a drug dealer),
which were not taken by the leader. In addition, because they are usually stories of victory over enemies
or debilitating circumstances, they attest to the existence in the leader of many qualities that are
considered necessary for leadership—strong will, self-confidence, proactivity, ability to take on big
challenges and cope with difficulties, independence, and toughness. In many respects, such life-stories
are good stories to lead from.
Here is an example of authentic leadership development out of struggle taken from the interviews
conducted by Shamir et al. (2005):
bThere was a continuous struggle that I had to fight all over the years with the environment. . .the
struggle that. . . formed me . . . There was nothing but me. . . At least that’s what I put into my head
and I understood that the environment is hostile to someone like me, that is society is hostile to
someone like me, and it was clear that in order to develop in such a society. . . it had to be a
hundred percent meQ (Our emphasis).
In political leaders’ stories, the story of struggling with difficulties and disadvantages is not only a
personal story but also a collective story. In these narratives, the leader’s story represents the struggle of
a group. When the stories represent a collective struggle, such as in the cases of Mandela (1994), Golda
Meir (1975) or Gary Adams (1996), they provide an additional justification for the need to lead, namely
fighting to promote collective purposes. In this respect, such stories are similar to the third type of
leadership development story identified by Shamir et al. (2005).
2.5. Leadership development as finding a cause
Life-stories of leadership development as the finding of a cause often combine a personal story with a
collective story of a movement. These stories present leadership development in terms of developing
identification with a movement and a cause and finding a sense of direction through the development of
a political or ideological outlook. For instance in Anwar Sadat’s (1978) autobiography, titled bIn search
of identityQ, the growing recognition of the necessity of a revolution and armed struggle against the
British is related in terms of finding a life goal and therefore an identity. Once he found that identity he
felt a sense of destiny and a sense of a strong relationship between his personal fate and the fate of his
country. Mandela (1994) also tells how he gradually developed or found the identity of a freedom
fighter, and once he defined himself as such, this became his main identity and main purpose in life.
2.6. Leadership development as learning from experience
The fourth and final theme identified by Shamir et al. (2005) in leader’s published and oral life-stories
is leadership development as learning from experience. Several leaders perceive and relate their life-story
as a series of learning or training experiences, for instance learning from failures or mistakes or learning
from positive and negative role models. In such stories, the leader bases his or her self-knowledge and
convictions directly on lessons learned from his or her life experience. For instance one of the managers
interviewed by Shamir et al. related a story from his military service. As a deputy company commander
during a war he tried to persuade the company commander to take a certain path but failed.
The result was a grave navigation error:
bWe entered an ambush and were wiped out. . . This is the kind of story that has to influence a
person, to mould him. . . I learned some of my behaviors from this story, my aggressiveness, my not
giving in. . . I am not yielding. I am seen as someone who is too stubborn. One who checks
everything before he is ready to step aside. . . And that is what I try to explain in this story, why I am
so obstinate sometimes, why I am not ready to give up checking and re-checking everything. . . If I
believe I am right-no compromise! And that is how I educate everybody here. This is how I worked,
how I work. I teach my son: check everything thoroughly. Even an order. Check every order, donTt
do anything blindly Q.
The importance of a life-story as the basis for leadership and for a leadership-based self-concept is
also highlighted by the cases of managers who did not have a coherent story to tell. These managers held
a formal title of a leadership position, performed leadership functions, and were seen by other members
of their organizations as performing a leadership role, but these positions, roles and functions remained
external to their core self-concepts. They expressed self-doubts, ambiguities and ambivalence regarding
their ability to be leaders and their motivation to embrace such a role. Such managers clearly found it
difficult to lead. Here are two examples:
bI don’t know if I am considered a leader. . . They sent me to the course because they came to the
conclusion that someone has to manage human resources in the company. . . Some people say I was
more lucky than anything. . . I advanced very fast because there was a series of positions that
bounced me upwards and also an element of luck. . . I am not sure I have enough of it [leadership] Q.
bI have another characteristic, something that I feel inside me, some kind of insecurity in my
abilities or in who I am. . . All the time I try to prove more and more. . . I live with this dilemma,
how people perceive me and my lack of confidence that says, why do they look at me so highly,
when I am. . . less than that, I live with this. . . gap Q.
The life-stories of these managers were patchy and less organized than the stories of the other leaders.
In contrast with the main leadership development themes presented above, which place the locus of
causality in the leader’s traits, efforts or actions, these stories emphasized an external locus of causality.
They conveyed a sense of being pushed or pulled into leadership role. For instance, the first manager
quoted above attributed his being sent to a leadership development course (and therefore bposingQ as a
leader) to company needs, and attributed his successes to luck.
2.8. Self-development as the development of a life-story
How do authentic leaders develop the life-stories that provide them with self-knowledge, self-concept
clarity and strong convictions? Life-stories are not testimonies to the objective events that happened, but
the manifestation and expression of the events as perceived and interpreted by the individual that
experienced them (Widdershoven, 1993, p. 2). Personal narratives are much more than remembered.
They are constructed (Neisser, 1994). This storied construction of reality has less to do with facts and
more to do with meanings. Life-stories are not dfreeT constructions, they are constrained by the events of
life, but authentic leaders select the elements of the story to confer meaning on prior events-events that
may not have had such meaning at the time of their occurrence (Josselson, 1993).
Constructing a coherent life-story involves highlighting certain participants and parts and ignoring or
hiding others. This does not mean that authentic leaders lie while constructing their life-stories. Rather,
they are constructing their truth by legitimately selecting and emphasizing certain events and participants
in the service of this purpose. As one authentic leader, Mahatma Gandhi (1949), wrote in the
introduction to his autobiography, titled bThe story of my experiments with truthQ:
bI understand more clearly today what I read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography
as history. I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember. Who can say how much I
must give and how much omit in the interest of truth?Q
The traditional approach to leadership development uses leader’s life-stories in order to discover
actual events and experiences that had contributed to the leader’s development. Many researchers
and writers have focused on events and experiences in the leader’s early life or early career such as
the loss of a parent, the successful resolution of an early life crisis, difficult or nurturing family
circumstances, high parental expectations, travel outside the homeland, relationships with mentors or
role models, and involvement in many leadership roles early in life. They have attempted to
connect these events and experiences with the development of relevant leadership traits and skills,
such as self-confidence, independence, risk-taking, achievement motivation, and power motivation
(e.g., Avolio & Gibbons, 1988; Burns, 1978; Conger, 1992; Kets de vries, 1988; Kotter, 1988;
In contrast, we suggest that the events and experiences chosen by authentic leaders to appear in
their life-stories reflect the leaders’ self-concepts and their concept of leadership, and allow or
enable them to enact their leadership role. For instance, Bennis & Thomas (2002) explicitly refer to
the crucibles and defining moments in leaders’ lives as places or experiences from which one
extracts meanings that lead to new definitions of self. According to Bennis and Thomas, crucibles
are places where essential questions are asked: Who am I? Who could I be? Who should I be? How
should I relate to the world outside myself? From the point of view of self-development and selfconcept
clarity the events or experiences themselves are less important than the meaning the leader
conferred on those experiences. As Bennis (2003, p. 334) says, bauthentic leaders create their own
legends and become the authors of their lives in the sense of creating new and improved versions of
The same principles apply not only to crucibles but also to other, more mundane experiences, for
instance to learning from role models. According to Shamir et al. (2005) study, many leaders’ life-stories
emphasize learning from role models of various types: historical or public figures, literary figures,
parents, siblings and other family members, teachers, mentors, superiors and peers. In the case of
authentic leaders, these models are not imitated. Rather the leader constructs his or her self-concept with
reference to these models. Perhaps the purest demonstration of this construction was given by some of
the managers interviewed by Shamir et al. who could not identify clear and salient role models. Rather,
they perceived the influence of role models as a kind of collage work in which they selected and
assembled learning experiences from contacts with teachers, bosses and colleagues, as well as from
world leaders and literary figures. This was described as a gradual process of self-clarification, which
started from a vague self-identity and progressed through encounters with various real and fictitious
characters, which the leader actively, though often intuitively and in an eclectic manner, used to arrive at
greater self-concept clarity.
Here are two quotes that demonstrate this process:
bI don’t think I ever preferred a single role model, but a little from here and a little from there. . .
what seemed appropriate in a certain area, not the 100 %, only those parts that seemed to me
important, that appealed to meQ.
bI did something that is comfortable for me, that I didn’t know how to figure out clearly or put into
words. . . When I saw a movie I took away one sentence or one scene. . . and the same if I read a
book. . . and I chose to remember out of understanding that those specific. . . elements in the book—
them I want to remember and them I want to adopt, and they fit into the puzzle, into the pattern that
I. . . with time, create (our emphasis). . . All along the way I find for myself those people that when
they say what they say it fits the way that I. . . These characters expressed sometimes in a couple of
words or a number of words, what was in my belly, and. . . they didn’t create anything new, they just
framed what was clear to meQ.
In sum, we have argued in the previous section that authentic leader development can be conceived of
as the development of role-person merger, self-knowledge, self-concept clarity, self-concordance, and
self-expression in the leadership role. In this section, we have claimed that such development is achieved
through the construction of a life-story that confers meaning on experienced circumstances and events
and organizes them in a meaningful and coherent way. The life-story conveys the leader qualities,
including both strengths and weaknesses, explains the leader’s values, convictions and justifies his or her
vision and claim for leadership. It provides the meaning system from which the leader acts and thus
makes his or her actions self-expressive. This approach to authentic leader development has both
practical implications and implications for future research but before discussing these implications we
wish to present another claim, namely that the leader’s life-story is a major way by which followers
authenticate the leader thus contributing not only to authentic leader development but also to the
development of authentic leadership.
2.9. Life-stories as the basis of leader authentication
Our definition of authentic leadership included the authentication of the leader by the followers,
namely the judgment by followers that the leader’s claim for leadership is based on personally held deep
values and convictions rather than on mere conventions of an appointed office or the desire for personal
power, status or other benefits, and that the leader’s behaviors are consistent with his or her beliefs,
values and convictions. According to many authors, followers’ trust is a prerequisite for leadership (e.g.,
Shamir & Lapidot, 2003). To a great extent, followers’ trust is based on judgments of authenticity, which
are based on the leader’s life-story and its consistency with the leader’s messages and actions. To be an
authentic leader it is not sufficient that the leader has a high sense of self-concordance (Sheldon & Elliot,
1999). The leader also has to be judged as self-concordant by others.
How do followers decide about the authenticity of the leader? First, they are likely to evaluate the lifestory
itself: its coherence and believability. Second, life-stories probably function as dnarratives of originT
often used in the art world to authenticate the artist’s work (Fine, 2003). In art, like in leadership, it is
often difficult to distinguish the real from a copy. Artists and their promoters therefore use the artist’s
life-story in order to claim authenticity for the artist and his or her work, while critics and collectors rely
not only on the work of art presented to them but also on the artist’s life-story to base their judgments of
authenticity. In a similar vein, the life-story is perhaps the most legitimate and convincing means by
which leaders can convey their claim for authenticity, more legitimate and convincing than directly
declaring their traits, values and convictions. Followers are therefore likely to look at the leader’s lifestory
in an attempt to assess whether the leader’s traits, values and convictions are convincingly
explained and justified by his or her life-story.
Third, followers can be expected to look for dauthenticity markersT (Pittinksy & Tyson, 2004) in the
leader’s life-story, namely elements that justify the leader’s claim to speak for the group. For instance,
the recently offered social identity theory of leadership (van Knippenbrg & Hogg, 2003) implies that the
followers identify with the leader to the extent that the leader is prototypical of the group, that is to the
extent he or she embodies and represents central group values and characteristics. Followers’ judgments
about the prototypicality of the leader are likely to be based on his or her life-story: The more the story
presents the leader as similar to the followers in terms of background, values and other central
characteristics, the more likely are followers to perceive the leader as authentic and as a drepresentative
characterT worthy of identification and trust (Shamir et al., 1993).
More broadly, to lead effectively, the leader’s story and the collective story should be similar in some
respects (Gardner, 1995). The leader’s story should capture not only the leader’s self-concept, but also
the followers’ values, identities and desires. It should be embedded in a collective story of which
followers are a part, and should provide an answer not only to the question, dwhat am I here for?T but
also to the questions dwhat are we here for?T Authenticity markers provide the basis for judging the
leader’s story as an authentic representation of the collective story.
Fourth, in evaluating the life-story as a narrative of origin and in searching for authenticity markers,
followers may compare the leader’s life-story as told by the leader to the leader’s life-story as told by
other sources: family members, associates, teachers, bosses, journalists, etc. Fifth, and perhaps most
importantly, the life-story serves as a template against which followers compare the leader’s decisions
and actions. The followers can be assumed to constantly monitor whether the leader’s actions and
behaviors are consistent with the traits, values and convictions implied by his or her life-story in order to
judge the authenticity of the leader and find justifications for their own followership role.
Of course, leaders, who are aware of the potential effects of their life-stories on followers’
authentication process, may fabricate such stories to increase followers’ identification and trust. For
instance, Jesse Jackson used to tell stories about growing up in poverty and about Martin Luther King
dying in his hands and passing the torch to him (Shamir, Arthur, & House, 1994). At least some sources
(e.g., House, 1988) claim that these stories were exaggerated for the purpose of gaining followers’
identification and trust. We can therefore assume that authentic followership is a continuous process of
comparing the leader’s life-stories as told by him or her with information about the leader’s life-story
obtained from other sources, as well as a process of comparing the leader’s life-stories with the leader’s
other messages and actions. In this sense, authentic leadership does not reside only in the leader.
In addition, as suggested earlier in this article following self-verification theory (Swann, 1990),
authentication by followers is likely to contribute the leader’s self-concept clarity and sense of
authenticity thus further reinforcing the development of authentic leadership. However, a full treatment
of followers’ role in the development of authentic leadership is outside the scope of this paper.
- Practical implications
3.1. Assisting the development of authentic leaders from the life-story approach
The life-story approach to authentic leader development suggests that self-knowledge, self-concept
clarity, and the internalization of the leader’s role into the self-concept are achieved through the
construction of life-stories. In this regard, it is different from most leadership development programs,
which tend to focus on the acquisition of concepts, skills, and behaviors either in courses and workshops
(Conger, 1992) or through on-the-job experiences, mentoring and coaching (Day, 2000). In addition to
the different focus, the life-story approach to authentic leader development implies that the development
process is highly personal and furthermore may have to be largely natural in order to be authentic.
Therefore, unlike the acquisition of concepts, skills or behavioral styles, this process cannot be expected
to gain much from a standardized training program carried out within the framework of the leadership
development bindustryTT. We should be especially wary of standardized programs because authentic
leaders as defined in this paper do not follow fads, yet the yearning for authenticity, in leadership and
elsewhere, is currently such a fad.
These considerations set limits to the extent to which authentic leader development can be planned
and guided. However, this does not mean that it cannot be assisted. The process does not always happen
fully naturally. There may be ways to assist it or facilitate its unfolding. It is reasonable to assume that
many people aspiring to be authentic leaders may have fragments of a life-story in their minds that do
not add up to a coherent story and do not yet provide them with a sense of self-knowledge and selfconcept
clarity. Some people are action-oriented and less reflexive than others.
In addition, the action demands of many tasks and circumstances may not provide the time and state
of mind for reflection, as evidenced by the fact that many leaders (e.g., Mandela, 1994; Sadat, 1978)
report that much of their self-development occurred during periods of forced dtime-outsT when they had
to spend time in prison. Throwing leaders into prisons may be a little too extreme way of assisting them
in self-development. However, there are perhaps other ways by which people can be assisted in drawing
personal meanings from their experiences and authoring their life-stories to achieve greater selfknowledge
and clarity and thus develop their potential to become authentic leaders.
It follows from our discussion of authentic leader development that one of the major ways to assist
people to develop their potential to become authentic leaders is through a guided reflection process.
Reflective thinking is bthe process of creating and clarifying the meaning of experience (past or present)
in terms of selfQ (Boyd & Fales, 1983). The process involves returning to the experience (replaying it in
the mind and/or recounting it to others), attending to the feelings accompanying the experience and its
memory, re-evaluating the experience and drawing lessons from it. Through this process people learn
about their strengths, weaknesses, motives and values and come in touch with their dtrueT self in the
sense of separating who they are and who they want to be from what the world thinks they are and wants
them to be (Bennis, 1992).
Previous works (e.g., Bennis & Thomas, 2002; Luthans & Avolio, 2003) have emphasized the role
of the life events as btriggersQ that stimulate development and growth. However, just encountering
some impactful experience is not enough; the experience must be reflectively worked into the life
story such that the story, and identity, is revised or redirected (Pallus, Nasby, & Easton, 1991). This
can happen close to the experience but may also happen later in life. In other words, because life
stories are continuously constructed and revised, the blessons of experienceQ (McCall, Lombardo, &
Morrison, 1988) can be learned not only close to the experience but also much later. Following, the
life-stories approach to leader development assumes that in addition to the immediate impact of the
experience, there are opportunities for growth and development in engaging in what McAdams (1990)
has called a life review, namely the process of reflecting upon, elaborating, editing and extending
one’s life story.
A guided life review process can start with asking people to draw a life-line, identify major events and
turning points and reflect on them with the help of questions asked by a facilitator, a counselor or
sometimes even a researcher, as has been done by Tichy (1997) and Bennis & Thomas (2002). Such a
process often focuses on the leaders’ ddefining momentsT (Badaracco, 1997), depiphaniesT (Denzin,
1989) or dcruciblesT (Bennis & Thomas, 2002): events or circumstances in which they were presented
with dilemmas or difficult choices and which provide them with an opportunity to learn from the choices
made and the actions taken about their values, motivations, priorities, abilities, and shortcomings. Such
reflection does not amount to the authoring of a full life-story. Often, however, considerable potential for
self-knowledge may reside in less comprehensive stories and, furthermore, reflection on defining
moments may provide the anchors for developing a more complete story and a fuller sense of selfconcept
Because we defined authentic leadership as characterized by person-role merger, and because we view
leader development and self-development as closely related, we do not believe reflection should be
restricted only to leadership experiences or even to career related experiences. Furthermore, defining
moments do not necessarily have to be associated with the overcoming of difficulties or hardships. As
suggested by Luthans & Avolio (2003) there is considerable potential for leadership development in
positive life events.
It has recently been suggested (Spreitzer & Grant, 2004) that people may be challenged by bpositive
joltsQ, namely unexpected events of a positive nature such as unique experiences of success or
appreciation. Such experiences generate positive emotions such as joy, pride, interest and elevation.
According to Fredrickson’s (1998; 2001) broaden-and-build theory, such emotions broaden people’s
thought-action repertoire by creating a tendency to explore and take in new information and experiences
and by enabling the person to envision even greater achievements in the future. These tendencies in turn
may build enduring personal resources by broadening the person’s self-concept to include qualities and
strengths the person had been less aware of before the positive jolt, reinforcing the person’s sense of
agency and efficacy, and adding newly imagined bpossible selvesQ (Markus & Nurius, 1986) to his or her
Such a process can be facilitated for the purpose of aiding leader development. Luthans & Avolio
(2003) advocate exposing people to planned positive trigger events. An example is provided by Roberts,
Dutton, Spreitzer, Heaphy, & Quinn (in press) who have developed an assessment called the reflected
best self (RBS), which asks people to obtain short descriptions of who they are and what they do when
they are at their very best from a diverse array of significant people in their lives (Spreitzer & Grant,
2004). Roberts et al. demonstrate how reflecting on the RBS helps people grow because it activates the
process described above.
The life-stories approach implies that similar outcomes may be achieved by making use of positive
jolts that already happened. Rather than obtaining a reflected best self from current associates, leaders
may be asked to construct a breflexive best-selfQ by identifying positive jolts in their life-stories and
reflecting on them to discover their strengths and contributions and broaden their self-concept. In view of
the reported success of the RBS technique and the fact that reflecting on unique events in life stories,
including positive jolts has been used successfully in psychotherapy (e.g., Freedman & Coombs, 1996;
White & Epston, 1990) we speculate that such an approach may also be useful in leader development.
In a similar vein, leaders may gain self-knowledge and self-concept clarity from reflection on their
role models: people whom the leader believes have influenced him or her or whom he or she perceived
as worthy of emulation and identification. Shamir et al. (2005) discovered that many leaders put an
emphasis on role models in their life-stories. If leaders attribute much of their development to role
models, perhaps more emphasis should be given to this aspect in the guided development of authentic
leaders. This process can follow a similar pattern to the one suggested above with respect to defining
moments. Leaders may be invited to list their role models and then reflect on the reasons for choosing
these models, the feelings associated with these choices and the motives and values reflected in their
choices. Thus, they may start to define or re-define themselves through their role models.
In addition, leaders may be assisted by an invitation to discuss and reflect on other leaders’ lifestories,
not necessarily those they have identified as their own role models. One way to do so would be
to work with leaders or aspiring leaders on other leaders’ life-stories. Reading biographies or extracts of
biographies, watching biographical films, discussing them and reflecting on other leaders’ life-stories,
defining moments and development patterns might be helpful in authentic leader development because,
as Sparrowe (2005) has argued, people may need a variety of alternative plots and characterizations as
templates against which they can construct their own past, imaginatively represent their own future, and
narrate their own development as leaders. Exposing leaders to other leaders’ life-stories and reflecting on
them, may assist leaders in gaining self-concept clarification through the process of collage work as
described by some leaders interviewed by Shamir et al.’s (2005) and quoted earlier in this paper.
Other ways of assisting the development of authentic leaders can be suggested. For instance, guided
reflection on current events and challenges facing the leader can be used to draw self-knowledge and
self-related meaning from the feelings associated with them, the action alternatives considered by the
leader, and the choices made by him or her. Guided reflection on current actions and decisions may also
help managers and other leaders to find ways to better express their dtrueT self in their role, and find the
courage to present themselves to others in a more transparent and authentic manner.
Furthermore, authentic leader development is not performed only in the leader’s head. Authentic
leaders find their dvoiceT by acting in the world, receiving feedback, and reflecting on the consequences
of their actions. We should not forget that lives are not only constructed as stories, they are also lived,
and people can shape their biographies, not only the way these biographies are constructed into lifestories
(Avolio, 1999). If we assume that leaders lead by virtue of their actual biographies no less than by
virtue of their life-stories, they should live and act as authentic leaders if they want to develop their
potential to become such leaders. Authentic leader development therefore includes reflecting on the past,
acting in the present, and reflecting on present action, and all aspects should be attended to in an attempt
to facilitate the process.
The processes of aided leader development described above are personal and probably most
appropriately performed in individual counseling. Some of them, e.g. the discussion of leader
biographies, films, etc., may benefit from a small group framework. Not all managers can become
authentic leaders through such processes and many are likely to benefit from such help only in certain
stages of their life or career. Some will discover that they cannot authentically incorporate the
leadership role into their life-stories and self-concepts. Others might become more authentic people
but not necessarily more authentic leaders because they lack some necessary leadership attributes and
However, it is believed that assisting leaders in guided reflection as described above may help many
of them to identify and define their convictions, gain greater self-clarity, and come to view life as an
unfinished project or set of projects (Denzin, 1989), thus assisting them in finding an dinternal compassT
and becoming more authentic leaders. This process does not guarantee the development of authentic
leadership because leadership depends on followership. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, for instance, has been
presented as an authentic person who has a clear internal compass (March & Shechter, 2003). We doubt,
however, if he qualifies as a leader because he has almost no followership. In spite of this qualification,
we believe the process described in this paper is a necessary component of authentic leader development
and may be as important as the acquisition of skills or the learning of an appropriate behavioral style.
- Research implications
Our arguments here are largely speculative though they draw on previous research (e.g., Bennis &
Thomas, 2002; Gardner, 1995; Shamir et al., 2005; Tichy, 1997). Research on leadership from a lifestory
point of view is still scarce in general, and virtually non-existent with respect to the topic of
authentic leadership development. Both the explicit arguments and the implied propositions presented in
this paper need to be substantiated and tested.
In contrast with previous biographical studies of leadership that have used leaders’ life-stories as
windows to their lives, the theoretical considerations presented above imply we should view leaders’
life-stories as stories that are constructed for self-knowledge, self-clarification, self-presentation, and
self-expression. These considerations suggest a narrative approach, which does not focus on life
histories but on life-stories. From this perspective, leaders’ life-stories should be approached as
bdepositories of meaningQ (Gabriel, 2000, p. 15) and analyzed to discover those meanings. The data
for such analysis can come from various sources: written biographies and autobiographies of leaders,
interviews in the media, interviews conducted for research purposes with leaders, colleagues and
followers, and observations of leaders’ public appearances and other occasions in which leaders’ share
their life-stories with others.
Many lines of inquiry can be suggested from this perspective. Leaders’ life-stories can be compared to
others’ life-stories, e.g. artists, scientist, or just ordinary people, to examine the proposition that they
contain specific leadership related contents. For instance, assuming that one of the functions of the lifestory
is to justify the leader’s position, leaders’ life-stories can be analyzed and compared to others’
stories to discover the answers that leaders give to the questions bwhy did I become a leader?Q and bhow
have I become a leader?Q Similarly, to test whether leaders’ life-stories are indeed selectively constructed
by the leaders, the life-stories of leaders as told by themselves should be compared with the stories that
others—family members, colleagues, and followers—tell about the same leaders’ lives.
A different line of inquiry would focus on the process of constructing life-stories by leaders. From the
life-story perspective, leadership development is to a great extent the development of self-knowledge
and clarity through reflection, interpretation and revision of life-stories. Therefore, the construction of
life-stories is what studies of authentic leader development should focus on. This construction can be
assumed to be an on-going process, which is performed not in isolation but in interaction with others,
and which is influenced by others’ responses to initial versions of the story. Certain elements may be
deleted or de-emphasized in successive version of the story, while others may be added or emphasized.
New self-relevant meanings may be discovered or constructed in this process. Following different
versions of the same leaders’ life-stories (for instance, in newspaper interviews given by the leader at
different periods) may provide some clues to this process.
While the study of leaders’ life-stories may offer many insights, it is not sufficient. Since leaders may
be aware of the impact of their life-stories on followers, they may fabricate life-stories to project an
image of authenticity. Methods have to be devised to distinguish authentic stories from inauthentic
stories and authentic leadership from inauthentic leadership. A starting point would be to test our
arguments about the relationships between leader’s life-stories and their self-concepts. For instance, do
leaders who have coherent life-stories experience a greater self-role merger? Do they have greater selfconcept
clarity? Greater self-concordance? A clearer sense of direction? More intense commitment to
their missions? Such investigations should not be restricted only to leaders’ self-reports about their selfconcepts,
goals and values but should corroborate them with assessments from colleagues and followers.
Followers’ responses to leaders’ life-stories, and the effects of these stories on followers should also
be studied. In regard to the arguments advanced in this paper, the process by which followers judge the
authenticity of the leader’s life-story and of the leader should receive special attention. For instance, to
what extent are followers influenced by the leader’s life-story in evaluating his or her authenticity? What
are the dauthenticity markersT that followers look for in leaders’ life-stories? Does the demonstration of
vulnerability on the part of the leader by the inclusion of stories of failure and weakness increase
followers’ trust in the leader? Do followers’reciprocate the authenticity of the leader as reflected in his or
her life-story and behavior? More generally, do authentic leaders produce authentic followership as
defined in this paper?
Such investigations can be carried out in field studies that examine the relationships between leaders’
life-stories, leaders’ authenticity, and followers’ reactions. Perhaps they can also be carried out
experimentally. While manipulating authenticity is a contradiction in terms, it may be possible to
manipulate the contents of leaders’ life-stories, randomly expose different samples of participants to
different versions of life-stories and study experimentally the effects of these versions on people’s
reactions to the leader, including the extent to which they perceive him or her as authentic. It may also be
possible to expose different samples of participants to the same arguments and messages presented by
authentic and inauthentic leaders. For instance, a message about an environmental initiative presented by
a leader whose life-story based self-concept centers around environmental issues versus a leader whose
self-concept does not include deep conviction about these issues.
Finally, the cross-cultural generalizability of the ideas presented in this article should be investigated.
To begin with, the concept of authenticity may not be valued similarly in all cultures or, which is more
likely, may carry different meaning and manifested in different ways in different cultures. For instance,
followers in some cultures may not expect leaders to be self-expressive or transparent. Indeed, they may
even react negatively to such leaders. The processes by which followers authenticate the leader may also
differ among cultures. In addition, the guided life review process suggested in the practical implications
section may not be equally applicable in all cultures either because it violates norms of privacy or
intimacy or because it focuses on the individual and relies on a relatively independent, rather than
interdependent concept of self (Markus & Kitayama 1991). As a method of inquiry, the life-story
approach has been used extensively by anthropologists in many cultures (e.g., Crapanzano, 1977;
Peacock & Holland, 1993). Its applicability to the investigation and development of leadership remains
an open issue.
As we suggested in the introduction, the concept of authentic leadership will be useful to leadership
scholars and practitioners to the extent that it highlights aspects of leadership that have not been
emphasized by extant theories of leadership and suggests new directions for research and practice. Our
purpose in this paper has been to contribute to these outcomes by advancing a self-concept based
definition of authentic leaders, articulating on the basis of this definition a thesis regarding the central
place of leaders’ life-stories in the development of authentic leaders, and deriving from this thesis some
practical and research implications, which, while perhaps not totally new, have hitherto been neglected
by students of leadership and leadership development.
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