While the cat’s away …

… student life carries on much as normal for those of us who are on distance learning courses. This weekend I managed to submit the first Psychology of Organising assignment on time, and I’m now straight onto planning the second, which is due in at the end of August. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of the dissertation proposal deadline approaching at the speed of a formula 1 driver lapping Silverstone. Other students may be well into their summer break by now, but for us mice on the distance learning treadmill there’s no time to play.

Not that I’m complaining you understand. While I’m not convinced that I’ve written my greatest assignment ever, the Psychology of Organising module is absolutely fascinating. I think as far as my grades might be concerned I should have spent more time planning and writing than following the fascinating but endless literature trails through the theories of transformational and authentic leadership. So much of what I’ve experienced during my working life has its roots in the theories that have been presented. Some of the insights I’ve been given about motivation and leadership would have been so useful to me 20 years ago – had I learnt those lessons before I tried to manage people they would have certainly saved me (and no doubt, the people who’ve worked for me) from a significant amount of angst. However, as Edith Piaf might sing, “Non, je ne regrette rien”. It’s always been the journey, rather than the destination, that I’ve found to be the most fulfilling – or self-actualising, as Maslow might have said.

As ever, there always seems to be something that I find while studying a topic that I can’t get out of my head. I know that I’m going to endlessly use (and probably misuse) this little gem to the distraction of my colleagues over the coming years, so I apologise to you all now. This time, it’s a paper by Jackie Ford and Nancy Harding(*) of the Bradford University School of Management critiquing authentic leadership theory (located within positive psychology), by arguing that – wait for it! – the only way that you can be an authentic leader is to be inauthentic.

Even without necessarily buying into the object relations theory that they base their critique on, it certainly seems to me that the authentic leadership model is self-defeating, as if the only thing a leader is allowed to express to their followers is positivity and optimism, where is the authenticity in that? They argue that it’s not just an academic nicety, but a real concern for organisations who are tempted to adopt authentic leadership. Because, if there is no possibility for a leader to admit that they have “a dark side”, increased anxiety for everyone within the organisation will result, leading to “dire consequences”.

Definitely food for thought. But for the time being, I need to file the paper away for another day as I have to get on with my reading around the topic of change management. And I’ve already found something there that looks equally fascinating too. Who needs playtime?

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 28th July 2014.

(*) Ford, J. & Harding, N. (2011). The impossibility of the ‘true self’ of authentic leadership. Leadership, 7(4), 463-479.


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