Is Authentic Leadership Selfish? Maybe. Are You Selfish?

A recent article posited that authentic leadership was selfishness. That people use the ideals that underpin being an authentic leader to just do whatever they want and not account for others. More specifically, this article contended that with all of the evidence for empathetic leadership, authentic leadership runs counter to this.

And, in some ways this article is right. But, it also illuminates a greater truth about the author, his readers, and the current state of leadership.

Yes, if being authentic means lacking empathy, then authentic leadership may result in a reduction of empathy, and that’s bad. But, that we would even consider making leaders out of people who authentically lacked empathy is exactly what is wrong with leadership.

The author of the article reveals more about himself than he likely intended – that he, authentically, lacks empathy and therefore a key ingredient in being a good leader. It is for this reason that when he thinks of “authenticity” he also thinks of “selfishness” and a lack of “empathetic leadership.”
Moreover, his readers, followers, and others who subscribe to this thinking of leadership also are revealing their own lack of true empathy for those that they work with. Where the real problem lies is not in that authentic leadership could lead to a lack of empathy, but rather that we allow for those without empathy to lead in the first place.

If we know that EQ and empathetic leadership are effective tools, then we should be opting for those who have strengths in those areas. Yes, it can be taught. Quantum string theory can also be taught – it doesn’t mean you or I will ever be any good at it.

So, to the author of the article (who will remain nameless), you are right: leaders who lack empathy who then try to act “authentically” will demonstrate even less empathy. But the problem doesn’t lie in the tenets of authentic leadership. It lies in the hearts of the leaders themselves who are trying to ameliorate their terrible leadership by following the ideas of authentic leadership without having done any real introspection or work on themselves first.