The 4Cs of authentic leadership

The world of leadership development is the subject of so many fads and fashions that many prefer to reject it entirely than be swept up in the latest trend or buzzword. It is therefore refreshing when a leadership theory emerges that is actually based on research and evidence. A series of corporate scandals over the last fifteen years (Lehman's and RBS spring quickly to mind, and these are now joined by Volkswagen) have created the requirement and context for the theory of Authentic Leadership. This has been studied and written about for the last decade but until recently there had been no research looking at how leaders develop either authenticity or authentic leadership. [In the US, over $10bn is spent on leadership development each year despite, to date, little theoretical or empirical evidence to support it.] What is authentic leadership? Authentic leadership is considered to encompass four key components:



  1. Self-awareness: knowledge of one's own emotions, thoughts, beliefs and motives

  2. Balanced processing of information: being able to be objective and accurate in both positive and negative information relating to oneself

  3. Internalised moral perspective: being open, honest and sincere in dealings with others

  4. Behaviour: expressing the above three components to behave in a way that is consistent and genuinely 'self-congruent'

The research presents an evidence-based approach to authentic leadership development. An essential piece of this work in practice was the group coaching framework employed to provide the social context in which leaders could develop their understanding of 'self' as reflected back by others. The proposed model comprises four over-arching concepts: Conscious Leadership Competent Leadership Confident Leadership Congruent Leadership Within each of these are seven categories:

  • Strategic Orientation

  • Leadership Confidence and Clarity

  • Leadership Capacity and Proactivity

  • Flexible and Effective Interactions

  • Understanding of Others

  • Management Mindfulness

  • Self-Understanding and Self-Management

In a group coaching programme held one day a month over three months, leaders engaged in intense small group coaching, learning about and re-evaluating their knowledge and understanding of themselves, within the structure of the model. In evaluating the study, the authors noted "what individuals appear to achieve is significant and enduring psychological, emotional and behavioural development that remains long after the group-intervention has concluded". Whilst further studies are indicated, it provides a refreshing example of coaching psychology research and its growing contribution to effective coaching and leadership development. ​See the September 2015 edition of International Coaching Psychology Review - 'Authentic Leaders are... Conscious, Competent, Confident and Congruent: A Grounded Theory of Group Coaching and Authentic Leadership Development' by Tony Fusco, Siobhain O'Riordan and Stephen Palmer


This article was first published by ManagingChange on 21/9/15


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