10 Authentic Leadership During Times of Change

Julie Kiehne

The authentic transformational leader plays a pivotal role in eliciting positive organizational change.  Authentic leaders have a genuine desire to serve others, are self-aware, and lead from core values.  Northouse (2017) claims leaders can develop both authenticity over time and the skills needed to help organizations succeed. An authentic leader possesses the skills of being morally grounded, transparent, and responsive to followers’ needs.

Truly authentic leaders are morally grounded and uphold an organization’s core values in the midst of change.  Followers need the confidence and assurance the leader will consistently exhibit ethical behaviors. Leaders maintain integrity when the leader’s everyday words and actions reinforce the core values.  George (2003) claims, “Authentic leaders know their true north. The one essential quality a leader must have is to be your own person, authentic in every regard” (p. 12).  Leaders have a clear idea of who they are, where they are going, and how to move forward.  Up and coming leaders live the values and set the pace by communicating clear expectations.

These qualities of an authentic leader can be learned and developed over time.  Cooper & Schriesheim (2005) suggest proponents of authentic leadership place a strong emphasis on the creation of interventions to facilitate the development of authenticity.  Such interventions sharpen the leader’s authentic skills and help the team to grow professionally. Avolio & Gardner (2005) identify, “The positive psychological capacities of confidence, optimism, hope, and resiliency as personal resources of the authentic leader” (p.322).  Morally grounded leaders not only make effective decisions, take the right actions, and lead by example, but also significantly out-perform their peers.  The true test of an authentic transformational leader is how core values are upheld in the midst of change.

Transparency is key to fostering a culture of trust between authentic leaders and employees. During times of change, follower’s need to feel the leader is transparent in all communications within the work environment.  Northouse (2017) claims relational transparency is being open and honest with one’s true self.  Trust is built when individuals share core feelings, motives and inclinations.  Both positive and negative aspects of the work environment must be communicated honestly within the team.  It is about communicating openly and being real in workplace relationships.

Employees who are informed and understand team members’ roles and the overarching purpose of the company are more likely to put trust in the employer.  Employees don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.  Employee alignment involves looking at the big picture and seeking to understand each team member’s role. Employers achieve this by practicing transparency in the workplace.  Transparent leadership results in followers who understand the company’s vision and how to help achieve team goals.  When leaders are transparent and take the initiative to intervene and model solutions, problems are solved faster.  By being open and honest about company problems, employees can help discover solutions.  Authentic leaders create a culture that values transparency, breeds team engagement, and produces successful outcomes.

An authentic transformational leader is responsive to the followers’ needs.  Such a leader is a good listener and is attuned to what makes followers feel important and appreciated.  Great leaders are aware of how their behavior relates to the needs of the followers and the changing workplace dynamics. A positive culture supports ongoing opportunities for followers to grow, both personally and professionally and establishes an environment that fosters continuous improvement.  Authentic leaders genuinely care about the followers and act with compassion to build trusting teams.

An effective leader encourages others and celebrates individual and team accomplishments.  Northouse (2016) asserts, “Followers and leaders are inextricably bound together in the transformation process. Authentic transformational leadership is socialized leadership, which is concerned with the collective good” (p. 162-163).  Authentic transformational leadership positively affects followers’ moral identities and leads to positive decision-making and action by the followers.  Transformational leadership positively influences a group’s ethical climate and moral action.  Leaders can become strong role models and transcend self-interests for the sake of the team.  This builds trust and encourages collaboration in the workplace.  Authentic leaders are genuinely passionate about the mission, inspire a shared vision and create a map for the team to follow.  When a leader enables others to act, followers feel better about themselves and their contributions to the greater good.  Overall, authentic leaders are social architects who clarify the values, develop the culture, and shape it to accomplish positive results.

The fast pace of change in the world in itself requires flexibility and adaptability of leadership styles and approaches in an ever-changing landscape.  Leaders often face major decisions, and beliefs can clash which results in a state of tension.  Impactful leaders take ownership when issues arise and share responsibility for any mistake. An authentic leader demonstrates an ability to exhibit the right behaviors, especially when needed in times of challenge.

Authentic leadership is the most effective route to inspire followership and action during times of change. When leaders portray a version of their real self, this inspires loyalty among followers who ultimately want a leader who is morally grounded, transparent, and responsive to their needs.



Avolio, B. J., & Gardner, W. L. (2005). Authentic leadership development:  Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 16, 315-338.

Cooper, C., Scandura. T. A., & Schriesheim, C. A. (2005). Looking forward but learning from our past: potential challenges to developing authentic leadership theory and authentic leaders. Leadership Quarterly, 116, 474-495.

George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner., B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Change: A Leader's Perspective Copyright © 2017 by Julie Kiehne. All Rights Reserved.

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