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EDC51 Group | London, UK

Leadership development, organisational dynamics, team cohesion
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The Truth About Authentic Leadership

Managing a team is not the same as leading it. And, to many, the difference is not the most obvious. Some may argue that leadership differs from management in the way that management is process and task based, whereas leadership is about your team following you and trusting your vision. But is an oversimplification and it also presupposing that leadership is just a set of skills one needs to learn. But it is not!

When we talk about developing or assessing leadership potential, we need to be aware of what kind of leadership we are talking about—authentic or inauthentic. Inauthentic leadership is not even leadership—it’s an oxymoron. But because, today leadership as a term is hugely misused, it’s important to put it into context. In reality, anything else but authentic leadership is just management, governance, coordination, delegation, power play, manipulation and office politics.

Leadership is about managing relationships with the team but also the relationships of the team.

Relationally and psychodynamically leadership is defined by three main components: (1) the relationship between the leader and the team, (2) the relationship amongst the team members themselves—management of which is the task of a leader, (3) and the nature of these relationships on ulterior psychological level.

Authentic leadership

Trust is an important part of leadership. Even more, it is an essential part of it. As humans we do not follow someone we don’t trust. We only follow people that feel safe for us—consciously or unconsciously. We do not follow someone we feel might be a threat to us on any level—but most importantly we do not trust people we feel are a threat to us on psychological level. Management does not require true relational trust, but leadership does.

You do not need your team to trust you if you want to manage them, but you do need them to trust you if you want to lead them.

If we regard skills as someone’s cognitive and behavioural abilities and knowledge, then leadership is far from being just a skill. It is a way of relating to others and the ability to use such relating for psychological contact, mutual trust and team cohesion.

Authentic leadership is about minimising the team’s feelings of threat and evoking the feelings of psychological safety. It’s about managing the interpersonal in the way that increases the sense of team-as-a-whole. This not only presupposes a strong relational bond between the leader and the team members, but also demands that the leader is able to strengthen the bond among the members themselves.

Authentic leadership is conveyed through all forms of communication and will also have an influence on ulterior, covert, unconscious level. Such ulterior psychological communication passes through the entire organisational structure of the company and forms the collective company culture.

If a CEO conveys a sense of welcoming, worm, and stimulating, nonthreatening environment, there is a good chance that the team will embrace this even when communication is indirect. However, when the CEO’s promotes welcoming and safe environment only on social level, but covertly sends out messages of threat, two-facedness and distrust, the latter will be picked up by the team as reality.

People sense inauthenticity. It’s part of unconscious communication.

When the social message does not match the psychological one—i.e. when words are incongruent with someone’s body language, gestures etc.—the psychological message will always be regarded as the truth.

This is why authentic leadership is about practicing what you preach.

Inauthentic leadership

Toxic leaders are not leaders. They just have followers. And they have them precisely because they are toxic.

Toxic leadership is not sustainable and is destructive to teams and organisations. Such leaders leave havoc behind through inauthentic relationships and destructive group dynamics.

Inauthentic leaders gain devotees by becoming projection screens for their unconscious needs. A narcissistic leader will usually portrait power, authority and the sense of direction. But these characteristics are rarely true—they are a part of their false self. Followers that feel they lack these qualities in themselves and do not have a sense of their own direction, will see such leaders as ideals.

Inauthentic and toxic leaders will gain devotees by stimulating their personal insecurities and offering themselves as an ideal to follow.

Inauthentic leaders evoke a sense of belonging in their followers. But what is even more important and highly destructive is that the followers will feel as though they can divest a sense of their own identity and engage in psychological symbiosis with the leader. They will allow both the leader and the group to take care of them.

Inauthentic leadership attracts individuals that discount their own personal autonomy—as individuals as well as a members of a group.

Authentic leaders will, therefore, not only be able to build a devoted team; a devoted group of followers that relates genuinely. Authentic leaders are the leaders that form a devoted group of autonomous individuals—one that follows them, but also one that feels safe doing so and is able to relate to each other as a team-as-a-whole.