Authentic leadership has been developed with insufficient empirical challenge to its definitional components, and alternative conceptualizations have largely been ignored. The theory remains heavily criticized and its distinctiveness from other higher-purpose leadership theories remains in doubt, leading to a circular debate as to its usefulness in practice. In response to the call to return to the definitional drawing table, this article presents the findings of an interpretative phenomenological study that reimagines authentic leadership as a two-component moral and relational model that is closer to Heidegger’s notions of ‘being true’ and ‘care’. The study inductively explores how leaders themselves make sense of authenticity in practice, when it is enacted by their own leaders within the social exchange relationship. It richly describes how managers perceive and attribute authenticity to their leaders within the lived experience of contemporary work. The study also identifies that working for a leader who is perceived as authentic feels like a friendship and is beneficial to followers’ own psychological experience of work, facilitates their own authentic expression and is worthy of retention as a distinct leadership theory that explains how performance is enabled within proximal leader relationships.
- authentic leader
- work relationships