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The lived experience of authenticity in leadership: A heuristic study

by Serice, Pauline L., Ph.D., CAPELLA UNIVERSITY, 2014, 197 pages; 3611236


This heuristic research study sought to illuminate the rich and complex journey of the experience of authenticity in leadership. Authentic leadership within organizations has received significant interest in recent years both by practitioner and academic literature yet the literature is glaringly lacking in qualitative empirical studies investigating the subjectively rich, detailed experiences of leaders actually “becoming” authentic in practice. This heuristic research study assists in filling that gap. Paramount in maintaining the credibility of the heuristic methodology, the researcher of this study has a passionate, enduring commitment to being an authentic leader and continually developing authenticity in her own leadership through her consulting firm. In this research project the investigator explored and illustrated her own vulnerable and deeply personal experience of authenticity in leadership, along with the experiences of 10 fellow co-researchers holding executive leadership positions in various size corporations around the United States. What became visible through the timeless immersion of the primary researcher’s indwelling inside of and unwavering focus on this repository of rich data was an intricately interconnected web of illuminated themes, primary patterns and sub-patterns of the experience of authenticity in leadership for these individuals. Specifically, the findings resulted in 5 core themes with 7 primary patterns and 12 sub-patterns distinguishing aspects and knowledge of the nature of the phenomenon as experienced by these leaders that does not currently exist in the literature today and which could, perhaps, be applied to creating future authentic leadership development interventions. The overarching feeling of the thematic analysis was one of “suffering through” struggle and internal conflict along with the precarious navigation of a labyrinth of paradoxical presences. In the end, it seemed that these challenging and disorienting struggles of the leaders’ experiences of authenticity in leadership was made worthwhile due to the fervently experienced existential significance of the phenomenon to the co-researchers’ lives personally and their experience of the significance of the phenomenon to society in general. Moreover, the climax of the study’s results culminated with the primary researcher’s realization, captured in her creative synthesis, that there was no experience of authenticity in leadership without the experience of inauthenticity in leadership and that, in fact, inauthenticity appeared as the essential revelatory gateway to experiencing authenticity in leadership. The two actually occurred as ONE…a synthesis of difference in perpetual motion. The pinnacle of the realization being that angst inevitably experienced and typically resisted could be the vehicle and paradox the opportunity through which to experience the phenomenon of authenticity in leadership. Ramifications of this heuristic discovery are discussed in terms of future research and authentic leadership theory and development.

Experiential Authentic Leadership Development:

Access to Breakthrough Performance




“The Serice (2014) study is a rare example in the literature of a rigorous qualitative examination of the vulnerable aspects of leadership authenticity…. The revelation of the immense internal struggle endured by leaders who choose to be authentic was a significant finding in this study. This may be important in regard to leadership coaching and development programs that seek to give emotional support and education on inner development… The study was significant especially regarding attention to the gap in the literature on leaders’ experiences with authenticity. Qualitative studies on leadership are important because of the emotionally challenging nature of the roles, and by exploring leaders’ experiences in their own words, the results have resonance. Regarding transferability, an important aspect of the study was the diversity in the participants (both men and women, many sectors, size of organization, age, number of reports) and the surprising commonality of their responses. A rigorous and in-depth approach to the use of heuristic qualitative procedures was another strength of this study.”


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