An authentic leader—a real leader—has three main tasks in relation to how they engage their team. Firstly, they need to gain team members as devoted followers. Secondly, the devotion needs to be grounded on affective level and combined with affective trust—in other words, devotion needs to come from an authentic place. But there is another essential element. In addition to this, an authentic leader not only needs to manage their relations with team members, but also the relations that team members have between each other.
“Badly managed critical periods in group’s life may affect its future functioning just as certainly as ineffective parenting will affect an individual’s subsequent social and psychological development”—Petruska Clarkson
Team cohesion is a direct result of leadership. It is that simple. But it is not as simple to get there. An authentic leader needs to be able to manage the cohesiveness of the team-as-a-whole—the bond among members themselves.
Management may produce effective working process. Inauthentic leadership may produce devoted followers. However, none of this will have the needed impact on group’s level of cohesion and, as such, formation of healthy team dynamics. The group-as-a-whole will not form, which will mean that any disruption to leadership will result in its deterioration.
An authentic leader doesn’t lead a group of individuals, but a team-as-a-whole.
Inauthentic leaders form followers, but these followers, on one hand, do not have authentic relational bonds in relation to the leader, nor do they have such bonds between each other. The result is that when the leader is gone the group disintegrates.
But there is another, an even more damaging effect inauthentic leadership may have on group dynamics. The team members may actually start acting destructively towards each other. They may start competing in toxic ways and engage in psychological games—manifestation of which might be high level of office politics. They may perceive conflicts as attacks on themselves personally.
Functionality of such teams is diminished because the energy they deploy is used up in maintaining of individual member’s defensive positions—guarding themselves of perceived threat—and not on healthy team activity and dynamics. This will increase toxicity of company culture and decrease individuals’ engagement.
Team cohesion and the potency of its leader have a direct impact on engagement of individual team members.
One can find many examples of companies failing and teams falling apart when their leaders either left or just disengaged from the team. The same will happen with manages who are not perceived as psychological leaders.
Authentic leaders will, on the other hand, make sure their team acts as a unit that is bigger than the sum of its parts—they will develop a team that is more than just a group of individuals.
It is true that in therapeutic setting team cohesion is achieved by therapist’s knowledge of group dynamics and skills as a group leader. But it is also achieved by their own intrapsychic and interpersonal relational characteristics. Whilst we cannot expect business leaders to be aware of the theory of group dynamics, this does not mean that a team leader is not able to do some of this job.
For instance, a leader will increase the team cohesion and incorporate healthy team dynamics by communicating such dynamics relationally on interpersonal level. Examples of this might be as subtle as not tolerating office politics over genuine professional relationships and performance. Or seeing and attending to team members that seem troubled integrating into a team. Genuine contact and avoidance of ulterior motives in relation to leader’s peers and their superiors will also convey a message of authenticity to his or her team members.