This paper was written for my master’s level ethics course to examine educational philosophy and values of an ethical leader.
The Ancient Greeks promoted the value, “Know thyself.” The value of this mantra is still witnessed through the authentic leadership theory. For Aristotle, the highest morality was virtue ethics. Even thousands of years later, theorists continually cast these principles back into educational discourse for consideration. Johnson (2018) depicts this leadership value as the “root construct… underlying all forms of positive leadership” (p. 314). Authentic leadership is underpinned by virtue ethics. It also appears to share numerous facets in common with pragmatism, especially in relation to mentally testing scenarios and outcomes through dramatic rehearsal. Furthermore, Johnson (2018) asserts that growth comes from solving problems. Dewey (as cited in Johnson, 2018) claims, “Growth itself is the only moral ‘end’” (p. 205). By these standards, the only way leaders will progress to their highest morality is through trigger events that test their character.
These “crucible moments” lead to critical reflection through which leaders face cognitive dissonance. This conflict between old and new ways of thinking causes transformative experiences where authentic leaders re-evaluate their core values and hone their judgment. Those who are tested under these trials gain strength and increased assurance in their decisions and convictions; their purposes change in profound ways after wrestling with these crucibles, resulting in more refined leadership (Bennis & Thomas, 2002). Therefore, the focus in not centered on how people are defined after events that shape them but rather that people’s characters are defined by how they respond to the events that shape them and their reflective mindsets for growth.
Authentic leadership revolves around four main components (Johnson, 2021). The first is self-awareness and reflectiveness, which allow for introspection of the self. The second is objectivity when encountering new information. This allows for a more unbiased and fair processing of information. The next component is engaging through an internalized moral perspective by looking inwards for core values. While these first three place the focus on how one approaches his own behavior and perspective, the final component, relational transparency, focuses on the outward appearance of authentic leaders. Johnson (2021) writes, “…being authentic is no longer enough. Leaders must also appear to be authentic” (p. 318). This produces an antithetical dichotomy between a leader’s authenticity to self and the portrayal of that authenticity in an other-centered way. It may be impossible for a leader to be true to himself if his own authentic expressions must be muted or altered to convey authenticity based upon how those expressions will be received. This creates a struggle for authentic leaders. Other leaders who feign authenticity to garner followership might be perceived in more favorable light than those who are truly authentic to their purposes.
Pseudo-authenticity appears to carry the same benefits as actually being authentic and with fewer personal costs. When a leader needs to portray confidence, he might forego outward expression of hesitation to bolster support from followers. However, this seems to directly conflict with the principle of openly presenting oneself to others. Although there are greater risks associated with that transparency, effective authentic leadership is observed when followers take psychological ownership, trust leaders even when leaders make mistakes, and likewise assume transparency with their leaders. In this way, honesty and integrity are fostered. The working environment becomes a supportive one of mutual respect. All contributors have a stake and are valued members. Great leaders share four essential skills. They engage others in shared meaning, have a distinctive and compelling voice, embody integrity, and have an adaptive capacity that is hardy and able to discern context (Bennis & Thomas, 2002). One must conclude then that authentic leadership is akin to virtue ethics.
However, authentic leaders in training require mentorship underneath transformational leadership. Byrne et al. (2018) concluded that the only way for cognitive shifts to occur is for transformational leaders to cultivate interruptions to routine daily processes and structure opportunities for leaders in training to learn effective responses under pressure. Empathizing with emotion is just as important in simulations as it is in real situations. Removing emotion from ethics is to deny a part of one’s humanity. Multiple facets need to be examined to fully understand how best to act. These include how one’s actions will impact others. As mentioned previously, running mental simulations is key to predicting future consequences of one’s actions.
For example, Bennis and Thomas (2002) presented the case of Sidney Harman, a college president and a business owner. When employees at his factory rebelled, Harman immediately travelled over a thousand miles to resolve a dispute over management arbitrarily handling employees breaks because of faulty technology. Rather than just fixing the surface level issues presented to him, Harman further changed the operation of the factory to provide his workers with the most responsibility for taking charge of the workplace. He created a culture that modeled his workplace after the college, offered classes to benefit his workers, encouraged dissent, and gave his employees an outlet for frustration in the plant’s independent newspaper. Harman’s crucible moment paved the way for creative solutions and an empathetic response, both qualities critically important for effective leaders. Most of all, he humbled himself to criticism and because of his speedy and decisive action to restore the humanity of his workers, the company recovered quickly from setback and benefited from employees’ increased job satisfaction.
What can be learned from this teachable moment is that an authentic leader’s ability to make ethical snap judgments with limited time requires the proper training. Someone in leadership without the exposure to de-escalation might panic and resort to implementing solutions based on stress and anxiety. Because of his authenticity, Harman displayed both transformational and servant leadership when he stepped back and humbled himself to his workers’ conditions, something which led to the creation of participative management (Bennis & Thomas, 2002).
The example of Harman’s situation provides a context of how education can be applied to the business world. However, the reverse can be true for authentic educators struggling with students who fail to see the point of school. By borrowing from Harman’s trigger event and his boots-on-the-ground approach, authentic educators can lead by implementing steps to improve student working conditions. Teachers might arrive at the realization that change needs to occur through mundane crucible moments that have cumulative effects, dramatic or explosive events which prompt a more immediate solution, or through positive mental change from engaging in honest and transparent dialogues with students. In the specific case of implementing a more real-world approach to learning, students can take authentic roles in the classroom, which better prepare them more adequately for the jobs they wish to pursue.
Creatively solving problems in the classroom requires one to be flexible. Therefore, it is difficult to determine any one specific curriculum profile to fit the authentic leadership profile. The previous examples would likely fall underneath the umbrella of the self-efficiency profile but are also learner-centered because they take constituents’ needs and conditions into thoughtful consideration. Authentic leaders are likely to take an interest in creating authentic environments for their students. These such classrooms would offer hands-on approaches to learning. Scholarly academic principles would not be omitted but would reflect more utilitarian needs of that knowledge as supported by social efficiency to build on students’ self-efficacy skills. Furthermore, an always learner-centered environment might not be conducive to modeling the demand expected in the workforce. In these cases, an even-keeled approach could help educators set high bars for achievement while also scaffolding students who lack the necessary skills to be independently successful.
To this end, authentic educators would likely be flexible in their curriculum approaches. Even an educator who fundamentally disagrees with social reconstructivism should not blind himself to possible benefits and applications when deep reflection prompts a necessary change. While all four ideologies conflict in their ultimate goals, authentic leadership necessitates an objective mind while acting from internal values. And sometimes, values change after crucible moments. Lumping all education into four siloed profiles does not accommodate for flexibility. Tahirslaj (2017) provided several examples of the vast differences between the profiles, notably the conflict between John Dewey’s two ideologies (learner-centered and social reconstructivist) and social efficiency, which was influenced by social Darwinism. It was grounded on research from behavioralist B. F. Skinner and established by Franklin Bobbit, the latter of whose words were paraphrased by Tahirslaj (2017) that “the goal of scientific management model was not to change the content of old education as much as to make such a model more efficient by putting more facts into learners’ minds in shorter period of time” (p. 624). Based on these points, it would be reasonable to assume that scholarly academic and social efficiency share an important overlap while also accounting for Dewey’s philosophies by providing equitable pathways to careers through vocational training and allowing for hands-on approaches that satisfy learner-centered theorists.
Authentic leadership is marked by self-reflection and a commitment to internal values. While authentic leaders look within themselves to learn strengths and weaknesses, their transparency helps build partnerships with their followers and make the appropriate judgment calls to benefit all stakeholders. Their humility is what allows them to be effective and establish long-term success with followers, and crucible moments are imperative to their growth and effectiveness. One who aligns with authentic leadership would likely align with several curriculum ideologies with a flexible approach to leadership and adapt to fit the needs of followers with highly-developed and thoughtful responses both true to the leader’s values and also considerate of followers’ necessities. An effective authentic leader knows himself and his those he represents and has the integrity to follow through with difficult decisions because of mental rehearsal for crisis situations. Ultimately, authentic leadership results in organizations with sustainable performance and strong trust-bound followership.
Bennis, W. & Thomas, R. J. (2018, February 09). Crucibles of leadership. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2002/09/crucibles-of-leadership
Byrne, C. (2017). The development of leader character through crucible moments. Journal of Management Education, 42(2), 265–293. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562917717292
Johnson, C. E. (2018). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (6th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.
Johnson, C. E. (2021). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.
Tahirsylaj, Armend. (2017). Curriculum field in the making: Influences that led to social efficiency as dominant curriculum ideology in progressive era in the U.S. European Journal of Curriculum Studies. 4. 618-628.