There is a great deal of talk these days about leading 'authentically'. In other words, speaking and acting in a way that is in harmony with a leader's true self. An entire industry of publications, seminars and workshops has grown up around the notion.
But what if the underlying assumptions are wrong? Dr Chellie Spiller, a lecturer in the Business School's Department of Management and International Business, is co-editor with Cranfield University's Donna Ladkin of a new book which suggests just that. Authentic Leadership: clashes, convergences and coalescences shifts the discussion from leader-centric ideas toward an understanding of the importance of relationship and context. Rather than searching for a single authentic truth, it recognises that there are many truths and possibilities, all of which can be authentic.
"We both start from the premise that leadership is a relational phenomenon, not something that can ever be distilled down to the actions of one 'leader', whether 'authentic' or not. Instead, we understand leading to be something that involves taking up the leader 'role'... rather than being something that a person 'is'," write Spiller and Ladkin.
A second difficulty with authentic leadership, they say, is the nature of the 'self' that it presents. Spiller and Ladkin reject the concept of the self as a clearly defined, well-bounded entity – a construct that underpins much current leadership thinking. They argue that the self is formed in relationships, and that it is a fluid work in progress rather than a contained and easily defined entity.
"There is no one channel we can dial into that has the frequency for authenticity. There are many channels, many frequencies of our self and others which are authentic," says Spiller.
It is what we choose, how it is enacted and transmitted, and the way it is experienced by others, that forms a coherence of frequencies which the editors call the 'authenticity vibe'. The question now, says Spiller, is how that vibe can be lived, and how it can be written about in a way that doesn’t reify it and make it into an unattainable goal.