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Over the last 50 years, leadership has received increased interest from scholars and management experts who are keen on accurately understanding what characteristics make a good or a bad leader. However, owing to the failures and problems caused by organizations as well as nations, the need for identifying good leaders has become more evident than ever in the 21st century. The benefits of good leadership in organizations and nations cannot be underrated. The available research on leadership has focused on identifying known leaders and describing their successes and failures. While such researches are accurate in their descriptions of the successes and failures of leaders and are an inspiration to future leaders, they fail to identify the key characteristics that made such leaders successful or unsuccessful.
Consequently, from such researches, people are left with unreliable and frustrating formulas of selecting and developing leaders. However, a new concept referred to as authentic leadership has been put forward. According to Zaccaro, Rittman, and Marks (2001), authentic leadership combines different characteristics including integrity, self-esteem, self-awareness, trustworthiness, high emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and respect for others among other characteristics. This paper will discuss the concept of authentic leadership concerning issues of leadership and communication. Also, it will relate the concepts of authentic leadership by drawing examples from the leadership of his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan.
Dimensions of Authentic Leadership
Five broad and interrelated dimensions of authentic leadership have been identified by scholars and will be discussed in this section. These dimensions include building relationships, developing self, leading change, leading people and leading performance. According to George (2003), an authentic leader must demonstrate the above dimensions in his/her position of leadership to be termed an effective and successful leader.
Firstly, authentic leadership requires one to have the capability of easily establishing and maintaining relationships with other people, organizations, or nations based on what applicable to his or her position. Leadership does not happen in a vacuum. In many instances, leadership is a responsibility bestowed on a person by others who are willingly ready to be led. It is therefore important for a leader to establish and build a relationship within and outside his or her organization and scope of leadership to benefit people who are being led (Klenke, 2007). Building relationships is a capability that requires one to have good interpersonal skills, communication skills, influence and negotiation skills, partnering and networking skills and political insights, especially for political leaders. In the present world, leadership styles that focused on the leader as the sole decision-maker are long gone. Without relationships with others, the mandate bestowed on a leader can easily become invalid and consequently jeopardize the noble goals the leadership positions were mandated to achieve in a given setting (Avalio & Gardner, 2005). For instance, there are many challenges that leaders face, including opposition from other people who may be disgruntled by the leadership approaches in place. In such a case, leaders need to leave communication channels open for dissidents and supporters to air their views on issues of contention (Michie & Gooty, 2005).
It also requires the leader to be in a position to sit together with different people, negotiate with them and realize a solution that is satisfying for each person. For instance, his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, demonstrated in numerous times, his capability to build and maintain relationships with other people, organizations and nations in his quest for a better UAE. It is during his leadership that the UAE became a federation of seven Emirates in 1971 (Wilson, 2004). The formation of the federation involved numerous negations, and consequently, without the negotiation, influencing, communication and networking skills depicted by his highness, the idea would have remained a pipe dream. Also, he successfully solved the long-standing boundary conflict with Saudi Arabia that led to the Treaty of Jeddah (Wilson, 2004). His actions and success in establishing a peaceful federation are key indicators of his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan’s capability of building relationships, which demonstrate authentic leadership in practice.
Secondly, authentic leadership requires one to bring change. In this dimension of leadership, a leader must be able to identify the problems facing his or her organization, identify the best alternatives for addressing such issues and lead the way towards the desirable changes (Zaccaro et al., 2001). Leading change requires a leader to have various traits such as decision-making, flexibility, resilience, and strategic focus and vision (Carr, 2008). In leading change, it is worth noting that leaders face many obstacles, which include opposition from people who would like to maintain the status quo, fear of the unknown and other issues. It is therefore important for an authentic leader to make well-informed decisions, whether popular or not, and seeing through their implementation in a given setting to achieve the desired outcomes. However, in decision making, leaders should not be dictatorial. Still, they should be flexible in hearing opinions of others in coming up with the decisions as well as in accepting proposed changes as they arise in the implementation of the decisions (George, 2003).
Another key trait of a leader in leading change is resilience. Resilience requires an individual to be able to withstand various challenges, failures and upsets in the process of change while maintaining focus on the result of the intended outcomes of change (Keith & Kuhnert, 2005). Lastly, leading change requires one to believe in those changes, have a strategic focus, and vision for his/her organization. His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was ready to show the way by leading change in his nation. Firstly, his success in establishing a peaceful federation remains the only such success in the Islamic world. Also, he successfully championed for the rights of the girl child, and currently, 99% of all girls in the UAE are enrolled in school (Wilson, 2004). Also, he led the change in ensuring that the UAE would not go to war by ensuring that its enormous oil and natural gas resources were a blessing instead of a curse.
Consequently, by equitably sharing the petrodollars, the UAE has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world (Wilson, 2004). Further, he led in the development of the nation from a poor, underdeveloped nation to a nation that has one of the best healthcare and education systems as well as an excellent infrastructure. Consequently, by being at the forefront in championing for change, Sheikh Zayed demonstrated the concepts of authentic leadership.
Thirdly, authentic leaders must show the ability to lead people. Leadership is all about leading people. Leading is not an easy task since it requires one to be aware that conflicts are bound to arise and that there are diverse people in a setting and hence the need for the ability to be considerate when addressing each person or a group (Carr, 2008). An authentic leader is who has conflict management skills, an understanding of diversity, team-building skills and willingness to develop others (Michie & Gooty, 2005). Firstly, organization are composed of diverse people, high ranking, low ranking, managers, subordinates, men, women, among others. A leader must understand this high level of diversity and ability to leverage the diversity in his or her organization. Expressing discontent for one group and unfair favours for another is likely to cause unnecessary friction that leaders would rather avoid in their organizations.
Consequently, a leader must be impartial in treating all people with respect and the dignity they deserve. His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan set good examples by treating all people with respect in a country where 85% of the population is made of foreigners. Further, he put in place numerous initiatives such as the right to education for the girl child, which is unlike other Islamic societies where women are oppressed and viewed as second-class members of the society (Wilson, 2004). Also, authentic leadership requires conflict management skills to ensure that all people coexist harmoniously and that any discontents are solved as soon as they arise. For instance, during his leadership, his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan made sure that all the emirates coexisted peacefully and any disputes or conflicts were addressed peacefully and satisfactorily (Wilson, 2004). An authentic leader understands that a time will come when he/she will be replaced and hence puts forward measures to develop others to continue his good works once he/she is no longer in his/her position of leadership (Zaccaro et al., 2001).
Through numerous examples that his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan set through projects and peaceful coexistence among others, the leader ensured that he helped others who would take over from him by setting a benchmark of what would be expected of their leadership. For instance, his son, Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who succeeded him, followed in the footsteps of his father. He is a major philanthropist, just like his father. He has also maintained the status of his nation as one of the richest and with highest per capita income in the world. It therefore evident that his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan proved himself as an authentic leader by developing future leaders who would continue his legacy.
An authentic leader is always in the forefront leading performance in his/her organization. Leading performance requires a leader to exercise and champion for accountability, an understanding of business dynamics, and managing performance (Carr, 2008). It is within the mandate of an organization to grow in efficiency and effectiveness of its services to its stakeholders (Avalio & Gardner, 2005). Leaders are the people responsible for ensuring that the organizations that they lead continue to improve in all the areas of their activities. Without accountability, it is difficult to delegate responsibilities to people in a given setting.
Further, without accountability, the will to achieve success cannot be sustained. Authentic leadership hence requires leaders to set an example by being accountable in everything they do in their capacities of influence (Klenke, 2007). In setting an example, an organization and its people are likely to follow in the footsteps of the leader and consequently achieve an organization-wide level of accountability, which translates into performance. However, once accountability and performance are achieved in an organization, leaders may loosen up and lead to the loss of such desirable accountability and performance. Therefore, leaders need to be consistent and manage the performance of the organization in the end (Michie & Gooty, 2005). It is also important for leaders to remain in touch with the dynamics of their environments and reflect the best prevailing performance practices to avoid becoming irrelevant and ineffective.
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan can be termed as an authentic leader through different programs and initiatives that he put through to elevate the lives of ordinary people in the UAE by equitably and unselfishly sharing the resources that were available at his disposable (Wilson, 2004). Through numerous economic policies, the leader was able to turn around the fortunes of the country and its standing in the globe. During his time, ills such as corruption and other scandals that give leeway for wastage of public money were sealed, and this indicated the leader’s willingness of leading the way as far as the performance of the economy of the nation was a concern as well as in the welfare of the citizens.
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Lastly, authentic leadership requires an individual who is ready and able to develop self. Developing self is an important aspect for those who are willing to remain relevant in their positions of leaders about the dynamics of their areas of leadership (Carr, 2008). For instance, at an organizational level, concepts that are effective today may not be effective tomorrow. Therefore, without development at a personal level and consequently, at the organizational level, the organization’s competitiveness can be jeopardized. The world is dynamic, and so is leadership. Hence, only those can adapt to these changes by continuously seeking development opportunities can be consistent in delivering expected performance in their respective organizations. The political environment is highly dynamic since each entity (nation) actively seeks to advance its interests. In this case, an ally of a given nation may be an enemy in the future since relationships between nations exist as long as they serve the interests of each other. His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan showed authentic leadership through his willingness to understand the dynamics in his sphere of influences and consequently adapting accordingly. For instance, his elaborate economic policies that led to the prosperity of the UAE were fueled by the desire to change the economic approaches of the nation to reflect the prevailing conditions of the modern period.
In conclusion, authentic leadership calls for the kind of leadership where followers have an authentic rationale for accepting to be led by a given person. Further, it requires the followers to have an authentic relationship with the leader, which is based on reason and not coercion. As discussed above, such leadership is characterized by heightened levels of self-awareness, accountability, willingness to accommodate diversity and willingness to change when it is required. The examples from his highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan have clearly illustrated what authentic leadership in practice ought to be. His achievements and legacies as the president of the UAE are excellent and have set a good example to many across the world.
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