01 Oct

What do we mean by authentic leadership?

by Robert Ziegler

When we trace the etymological roots of “authentic” and “leadership,” some light can be shed on the deeper meaning of the phrase. “Authentic” combines ancient roots for “self” (think author or automobile) and a root for being or doing. So authentic has the sense of being the author of your own actions and state of being.

Leadership has a murkier history. Some sources suggest it is related to the chemical element, lead, which – because of its low melting point – could be made to flow. Lead, as a verb, also has connections with “journey” or “way”. Before 1000 C.E., however, leaders and leadership seemed not to be common concepts. Perhaps because there was less choice involved – few if any had the luxury of deciding whether or not  to follow the reigning monarch. So “leader” has the sense of someone who encourages others to join in a journey.

So maybe (and I confess I am playing fast and loose with the etymology) authentic leaders are people who, by being authors of their own lives, encourage others to join them in a journey. Of the many things that people find compelling – a great idea, a promising future, a deep and abiding value – authenticity is certainly on the list.

What inspires you to lead? Or to follow?


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