Emotional intelligence: Value and limitations in leadership communication

Presentation on the use of Emotional Intelligence instruments for leadership development.

ORG423 Week 7 Critical Thinking Richard Rock

Book Review: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

 Book Review: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

            Conflict is a natural part of the human condition, present in personal relationships, work settings, criminal justice, politics, and likely every human endeavor.  Why is conflict so pervasive?  What are the origins of conflict behavior in human beings, and more importantly, how can people change?  One candidate human behavior that may contribute significantly to conflict is self-justification, the inherent ability for human beings to justify their choices.  In Mistake Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris and Aronson (2007), describe self-justification as a behavior that preserves beliefs, contributes to self-esteem, and supports well-being, but is also a source of harm, as people use self-justification to protect their choices and self-image, rather than admit  mistakes.  The authors’ perspective is built on decades of research into Festinger’s (1957) groundbreaking theory of cognitive dissonance, the notion that human behavior is not simply the result of rewards and punishments, rather, as thinking beings, people have to resolve dissonant cognitions, and how they are resolved has implications on behavior.  In fact, Aronson did his graduate work with Festinger at Stanford, and since, has authored numerous research studies on the subject (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  In writing the book, the authors’ share how the mechanism of self-justification works, hoping that people will ultimately be able to defeat their cognitive wiring.  Not only is the book credible, it is also an engaging narrative, replete with real-world examples of how the tendency of people to self-justify their actions affects individuals, families, relationships, memory, therapy, the legal system, conflict, and war.  While Mistake’s Were Made (but not by me), offers unique insights in into how self-justification affects behavior, relationships, and institutions, it is long on problems, and short on solutions; spending more time on social commentary than on cognitive dissonance theory.

Content Summary

            According to (Tavris & Aronson, 2007), “Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent” (p. 13).  An example is the tension created when a person must reconcile their self-concept with a harmful behavior; like when a person believes they are a good person, yet lies about something.  The resulting dissonance between the two cognitions, “produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it” (Tavris & Aronson, 2007, p. 13).  How then do people reduce the feelings of discomfort produced by dissonant cognitions?

               According to Tavris and Aronson (2007), most often, people will engage in self-justification as the primary mechanism to reduce dissonance, likening dissonance and the resulting self-justifications to a thermostat that regulates self-esteem.  Recalling our earlier example of a person who believes they are good, yet engages in harmful behavior like lying, the person might justify the lie to themselves or others as a way to achieve consonance; for instance, “I only lied because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings”.  Ipso facto, they can retain their self-concept.  Unfortunately, the implications of self-justification are far greater than simply the lies people tell themselves to feel better; rather, owing to the social nature of human beings, self-justification is a slippery slope that can have a significant affect on future behavior, relationships, and social institutions.

             Through descriptions of both virtuous and violent spirals, the authors note how self-justification affects future behavior.  Citing Kahn’s (1966) research on catharsis, the authors suggest that dissonance forces the perpetrator of a harmful act to justify their behavior by blaming the victim, thereby increasing their anger towards the victim and setting the stage for future violence (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  In the same vein, people who do good deeds for someone they do not like will justify their behavior by changing their opinion of the person for whom the deed was done (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  In each instance, self-justification sets the stage for future behavior, and over time, fundamentally changes beliefs, self-concept, and personal narratives.

             The author’s provide a useful metaphor, that of a pyramid, to describe how self-justification is a slippery slope, affecting future decision-making, and evolving self-concept.  At the top of the pyramid is a person looking down towards a difficult and perhaps morally ambiguous choice.  Irrespective of whether the individual makes a good or bad decision, taking a step towards the bottom, self-justification kicks in, convincing the individual of the rightness of their choice.  Over time, and the course of many decisions, a person can end up very far from where they started, in terms of their principles, beliefs, prejudices, or other cognitions; hence the slippery slope of self-justification.  In addition, the further down the pyramid a person slides, the more intractable they are likely to become, given how their journey down the slope informs their own personal narrative and resulting beliefs.

              Tavris and Aronson (2007) describe how self-justification operates on beliefs, and manifests in the form of “confirmation bias”, the notion that people will prefer information that confirms their own points of view rather than accept new information contrary to their beliefs (Nickerson, 1998).  Confirmation bias is a particular form of dissonance-reducing, self-justification that allows a person to filter out contrary information, irrespective of the strength of evidence, rather focusing on information that supports their way of thinking.  The implications are far-reaching, insofar as self-justification serves to support close-mindedness and resistance to change.

                In fact, the authors share dozens of examples of how self-justification and confirmation bias affect the country’s social institutions, including the mental health system, the legal system, and even marriage.  In particular, Tavris and Aronson (2007), are critical of practicing mental health professionals, who lack the essential skepticism inherent in scientific thought in their clinical practices.  The result, the authors argue, is a closed loop of clinical judgment, where the clinicians own beliefs about their patients, lead them down the slippery slope of self-justifying behavior, doing enormous harm in the process.  Replete with examples, ranging from the molestation hysteria in daycare to the tragedies of repressed-memory therapies, the authors highlight how self-justification led many clinicians towards erroneous judgments that caused significant individual and social harm. 

             The closed loop of judgment was also prevalent in law enforcement and legal system examples, where bad decisions result in wrongful convictions and innocent people in prison.  In addition to the typical descriptions of confirmation bias during investigation and trial, the authors are exceptionally critical of law enforcement interrogation techniques, and in particular, are critical of the pseudo-scientific Reid technique, which presumes guilt and, among other transgressions, introduces fictitious evidence to induce confessions.  Tavris and Aronson (2007) argue “the interrogator’s presumption of guilt creates a self-fulfilling prophecy” (p. 143), where the innocent are coerced into confession.  The authors cite a notable study finding that an innocent person paired with an interrogator that presumed guilt was the combination that resulted in the most aggressive and coercive interrogation techniques (Kassin, 2005).  The implications of pervasive self-justification in law enforcement and the legal system, is the conviction of innocents and the coincident freedom for the guilty. 

             The final social institution explored at some depth, is the institution of marriage, where self-justification can work to either support or fracture marital relationships, depending on whether interactions between husband and wife are positive or negative.  According to the authors, “the vast majority of couples who drift apart, do so slowly, over time, in a snowballing pattern of blame and self-justification” (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  Specifically, in absence of empathetic communication, couples can develop implicit theories about one another to account for behaviors that cause dissonance (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  Implicit theories can have significant consequences when confirmation bias sets in and couples adopt victim or villain narratives, rather than behave with empathy for the other (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  Unfortunately, the authors offered little advice for couples caught in a spiral of self-justification.

                In fact, only in the final chapter, do Tavris and Aronson (2007) offer recommendations for how people can override the wiring of cognitive dissonance, and those recommendations are surprisingly thin.  The authors suggest that greater transparency in the institutions and professions where confirmation bias is prevalent can help remove self-serving bias (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  For instance, interrogations can be videotaped, or third party commissions can be appointed to review new evidence in trials.  In addition, the authors favor greater training in science, suggesting the natural skepticism and peer review processes systematically remove confirmation bias (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  However, their advice for individuals seeking to override their wiring is less concrete, suggesting simply, that people should step out of the moment, let go of their self-justification, and own up to their mistakes (Tavris & Aronson, 2007).  If it were that simple, more people would do it. 

Analysis and Evaluation

            The authors achieve the intent of the book, insofar as the narrative helps the reader understand the mechanism of cognitive dissonance, and the way in which self-justification helps reduce dissonance.  In fact, the narrative is replete with examples of how self-justification leads people towards confirmation bias and tunnel vision, closed loop judgments, fractured relationships, and intractable positions, in effect, sliding down the slippery slope of the pyramid, one bad decision at a time.  The sheer volume of relevant and timely examples, make the narrative highly credible.

            In addition, the authors are excellent at supporting their perspective with scientific research and evidence in a way that is thoughtful, while keeping the overall voice of the work consumable for audiences without formal a social psychology education.  However, those that are interested in the underlying research supporting the authors’ conclusions can make use of the nearly forty pages of endnotes that form the theoretical backbone of the book.  In particular, Aronson’s decades of experience and leadership in cognitive dissonance research, come to life in a credible and succinct way.

            Despite the inherent credibility of the work, the tone of the book is largely negative, perhaps owing to the author’s desire to help people understand the consequences of self-justification.  While the authors avoid an outright indictment of the country’s social institutions, they do so only by a narrow margin.  In some ways, the story was oriented primarily as social commentary, rather than a pure scientific or self-help narrative, perhaps too much so.  This author found the overwhelmingly negative tone to paint a very bleak picture of society, perhaps the result of a too narrow focus on the problems and consequences of self-justification and too little focus on solutions.  In fact, the author’s devote a mere chapter to a more hopeful, and solution-oriented stance, suggesting either their decades of research have produced little in the way of remedies to help people override their wiring, or that another book is in the offing. 

            The lack of solutions was surprising given that so many disciplines outside of social psychology grapple with the same problem, even if the problem is not expressed using cognitive dissonance as the theoretical lens.  For example, leadership research often seeks to understand how some leaders are able to create a learning organization, while others create a culture that fears mistakes; and how some leaders can maintain their ethical compass, while others lose their way.  In particular, authentic leadership research deals directly with the need for authentic leaders that avoid the slippery slope of self-justification through development of authentic leadership characteristics, including self-awareness, transparency, ethics/morals, and balanced processing (Rock, 2011).  The field of authentic leadership research includes interventions like the ALQ and “Best-self” exercise to help leaders connect with their authentic selves, a process designed to shine a light on the self-justifications that chip away at a leader’s true self (Rock, 2011).  Furthermore, the leadership discipline is not the only discipline that offers practical advice.

            For example, decades of research in communications also offer practical advice to avoid the consequences of self-justification, particularly in conflict management, where conflict managers have had to deal with pervasive self-justification and intractable positions in the course of mediation, negotiation, and therapy.  For instance, there is a significant body of work on the transcendent power of forgiveness in helping individuals see past their roles as victims and villains, moving people far beyond self-justification towards empathy and reconciliation (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  In addition, practical techniques, such as focusing on the problem rather the person, focusing on interests rather than positions, and even reframing, help move the dialogue away from the opportunity for self-justification to play a role.  In short, this author would have preferred that Aronson and Tavris would have devoted more effort on practical advice and guidance, drawing from a wider variety of disciplines.  It appears that the authors suffer from confirmation bias, failing to draw solutions from disciplines outside their own.


            Despite some of the drawbacks of the book, Mistake Were Made (but not by me) is a powerful narrative that offers fascinating insight into human behavior and motivation.  In addition, the work is timely and relevant, given the pervasive prevarication, avoidance of responsibility, and self-justification that affects humanity’s social institutions.  While the authors’ insights into how self-justification affects behavior, relationships, and institutions is powerful, the book could use more discussion on solutions and a little less social commentary.  Perhaps the authors should consider the sequel, Mistakes Were Made (by me): How We Take Responsibility to Lead Better Lives.


Abigail, R. A., & Cahn, D. D. (2011). Managing conflict through communication (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill.,: Row.

Kahn, M. (1966). The physiology of catharsis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 278-298.

Kassin, S. (2005). On the psychology of confessions: Does innocence put innocents at risk? American Psychologist, 60, 215-228.

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2, 175-200.

Rock, R. (2011). An Authentic Leadership Journey. Essay. Colorado State University. Denver. Retrieved from https://journey24pointoh.com/2011/11/03/an-authentic-leadership-journey/

Tavris, C., & Aronson, E. (2007). Mistakes were made (but not by me) : why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts (1st ed.). Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt.



Constructive Conflict: A Leadership Moment

Conflict is inherent in sports, as individuals and teams compete against one another to win.  In football, hockey, and boxing, people intentionally hit each other to gain an advantage.  Even in basketball, where there are distinct rules to avoid contact, there is significant contact “in the paint”, and players often injure each other as they vie for advantage.  Despite conflict’s central role in sports, “on the court” conflicts are not usually considered the type of conflict that is resolved using communication-based conflict management techniques.  However, there is often considerable conflict “off the court”, at times the result of a complex array of needs and expectations amongst various actors including parents, athletes, coaches, and fans.  Poole (2012), describes one such conflict, between a player and coach, a result of differing expectations of playing time between the actors.  The case highlights how relationship uncertainty, attribution without communication, and relationship economics work to keep the conflict in the initiation phase, whereas relationship-centered communication is a leadership opportunity to collaboratively resolve the conflict and improve the team.


The case study revolves around a conflict between the coach and one of the players, where the player seeks a greater role during games, while the coach is confident in their decision-making and appears unwilling to meet the player’s expectations of more playing time (Poole, 2012).  Poole (2012) describes the conflict from the point of view of the player:

You go to practice and work as hard as anyone else, and know all the plays. You previously went to your coach and asked why you weren’t playing in the games. You felt that he had favorite players, and since they didn’t include you, you weren’t receiving the opportunities that you should as a member of the team. The coach replied that since he picked the team, he owned it, and he would decide who played. He suggested that you quit if you didn’t like it. (p. 1)

The case describes a conflict that appears to be stuck in the initiation phase, without an obvious path forward to resolution, given the apparent finality of the discussion.  Failure to bring the conflict to resolution has inherent risks for the player, the team, and the coach, insofar as the conflict has the potential to lead to a confrontation avoidance cycle.  In particular, the relationship may suffer from the chilling effect, where “one person in the relationship withholds grievances from the other, usually due to fear of the other person’s reaction” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 29).

According to Abigail and Cahn (2011), the chilling effect can lead to decreased level of communication, decreased commitment, and eventual death of the relationship.  The possibility that the relationship between player and coach could suffer from the chilling effect is apparent, given the coach appears willing to end the relationship, rather than work to resolve the conflict.  Of course, the player has an equal role in the conflict, insofar as the player does not appear to consider the needs of the coach or the team.  To fully understand the perspectives of both actors, this author will first analyze the situation from a theoretical perspective, before arriving at a recommendation.

Theoretical Perspective

To analyze the theoretical perspectives that may be at work in the conflict, this author will adopt Goffman’s (1956) dramaturgical perspective, looking at the conflict from the perspective of the player and coach roles.  The player is concerned that they are not receiving an appropriate amount of playing time based on their sense of fairness and as recognition of their effort.  In addition, the player appears to attribute the lack of playing time to favoritism on the part of the coach, an inference that may or not be reflective of the situation.  “Attribution theory states that people act as they do in conflict situations because of the inferences they make about others based on their behavior” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 216).  Moreover, people may respond aggressively when one person seeks to constrain another’s alternatives, when the act appears to intentionally do harm, and when the act appears illegitimate (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  The coach’s role is a difficult one, as the coach must balance the goal of winning, with the needs of every player and a variety of additional actors, including parents, administrators, and fans.  Balancing these perspectives, the coach may have legitimate reasons for not playing the player, however, because the player attributes the coach’s behavior to favoritism, the player does not attempt to understand the coach’s decision-making.  In turn, the coach may believe the player is seeking to illegitimately constrain the coach’s choices, perhaps influencing the coach’s response.  While attribution theory provides insight into the behavior of both the player and coaching, social exchange theory may offer additional insight.

“Social exchange theory states that people evaluate their personal relationships in terms of their value, which is created by the costs and rewards associated with the relationship” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 220).  In the player coach relationship depicted in the case study (Poole, 2012), differing perspectives on value may be the source of conflict, as the player clearly values personal playing time, while the coach’s value orientation is opaque.  However, by adopting the role of coach, this author may infer the coach’s value orientation to provide further insight.  As such, this author believes the coach likely values winning, while also valuing team play, player development, and perhaps even their job.  The case highlights how differing value orientations can form the basis for conflict.  The coach’s willingness to end the relationship suggests that the rewards of the relationship fall below the comparison level standard perceived by the coach, likely a result of the coach’s perception of the player’s teammates, where the alternative of ending the relationship with the player is preferable when compared with the costs of meeting the player’s expectation.  Of course, the coach’s willingness to end the relationship likely creates considerable uncertainty for the player.

Uncertainty can occur both in a relationship, and within a conflict relationship, and is often the result of insufficient information (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  The player clearly does not understand the coach’s motivation for selecting the player line-up, nor does the player know specifically what they need to do in order to realize the opportunity for additional playing time.  The uncertainty in the situation and the ambiguous motives of each actor in the case, combine to create a potential chilling effect, where the player may be unwilling to address the conflict in a productive way, given the potential implications.  The coach’s willingness to let the player leave the team introduces further uncertainty into the player’s perception of the likelihood of future play.  Moreover, the coach’s attitude may undermine the player’s level of esteem.  Maslow (1943) identifies esteem as a fundamental human need associated with confidence, achievement, and respect.  Because the coach is likely concerned with player development, the coach’s communication with the player, whether intended or not, may be incongruent with the coach’s value orientation and role as a leader.  Furthermore, given the role of coach is a leadership role, the coach has a responsibility to understand the nature of the conflict and use the conflict constructively to provide value in the leader-member exchange (LMX).

Leader-member exchange theory is a leadership theory that focuses on the dyadic social exchange process in the relationship between the leader and member (Graen & Uhl-Bein, 1995).  According to Graen and Uhl-Bein (1995), a LMX is the basis of social exchange between leaders and members, and leadership behavior can lead to high quality LMX relationships.  Moreover, high quality LMX can improve organizational commitment and improve organizational citizenship behavior (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005).  The case study highlights a missed opportunity on behalf of the coach to use the conflict constructively to benefit both the player and the team.


Had either, the coach or the player, taken a constructive view of the conflict, the situation could be very different.  However, as a leader, the coach has an overriding responsibility to use conflict constructively as an opportunity to help players reach their goals, while improving team outcomes.  Irrespective of responsibility, both actors in the conflict drama have the opportunity to use the conflict as an opportunity to collaborate to resolve the conflict while improving both personal and relationship growth (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  Collaboration is a relationship-centered approach to conflict that seeks to resolve conflict and create win-win scenarios (Abigail & Cahn, 2011).  Had the player, or the coach, sought to understand each other’s needs, empathized with each other, or emphasized their common purpose, the actors may have found opportunities to collaborate.

For example, the coach, being concerned with player development, could have used the opportunity to communicate the specific improvements required of the player to increase their playing time.  Conversely, the player could have asked what specifically they needed to improve to increase playing time, rather than attribute the lack of playing time to favoritism.  However, this author suggests the responsibility largely rests with the coach.  The conflict was a coaching opportunity that could have motivated the player to improve, and provided support via future leader-member exchanges oriented toward the players development.  While it is unclear whether the player would meet the coach’s expectations of future performance, Bandura (1997) notes that expectations are the best predictor of success.


While conflict can be a source of angst and uncertainty, conflict is equally an opportunity to improve personal and relationship outcomes when used constructively.  Moreover, when conflict occurs in the leader-member exchange, constructive conflict is a leadership moment, an opportunity for a leader to teach, influence, and raise expectations of performance.  To take advantage of the leadership moment, the leader must adopt a relationship-centered approach to understand the members needs, and actively collaborate to help the member achieve their goals.  While both actors share the responsibility to initiate collaboration, the leader has a greater responsibility.  After all, leaders choose to lead.



HELP: I need input to select Masters program

Hello!  As I near completion of my Bachelors in Applied Social Science at Colorado State, I am considering a number of Master’s programs.  In short, I thought I would reach out to my friends and associates to get your input, based on your knowledge of me, my skills, my gaps, and your view of the future.

I chose to pursue social science, because so many of society’s challenges and opportunities in both the public and private sector usually have solutions, but lack an understanding of how to organize the social environment for change; the environment, globalization, inequality, healthcare, and economic growth are all examples.  At the same time, we are in a period of great change with the advent of a global communication network, global transportation network, and the Internet, as we construct the social meaning of our future with these incredible capabilities.  As I consider Master’s programs, I am looking at it through the lens of social change in digital era, and the potential impact we can have on our major challenges, specifically focusing on the role of businesses, government, or NGOs in engineering the social element of solutions.

Therefore, I have thought about a Master’s program in the following ways:

  • Continue focus on social science, going deeper on communication as the key skill to affect change that can be applied to any situation.  These programs typically include focus on communication & media or communication & leadership.  The programs at Gonzaga, John Hopkins University, Seton Hall, University of North Carolina, and University of Southern California fall into this category.
  • Starting applying what I have learned about social science towards one of the most pressing opportunities and challenges of our time, environmental sustainability.  I think that both the public and private sector will need to address sustainability in a meaningful way in the future and will need leaders with a social science background to help affect change.  The programs at Colorado University, Duke, and University of Denver fall into this category.

The attached PDF, named masters thoughts, includes more detail for each program, including curriculum, costs, and duration.  I would very much like to hear your perspective.  Please provide your feedback using the blog comments.  Thanks!

masters thoughts

Colorado Civil Unions: Why Let Gay Couples Have Rights?

Last week, gay marriage and civil union legislation played out in legislatures across the country with varied results (Associated Press, 2012).  In New Jersey, Governor Christie vetoed gay marriage legislation that had made it through the legislature, while in Washington state, Governor Gregoire signed similar legislation into law (Associated Press, 2012).  Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Colorado State Senate Judiciary Committee recently weighed in on civil union legislation, voting in favor by a 5-2 margin (Moreno, 2012).  The bill is expected to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate, while facing a tough fight in the Republican-controlled House (Moreno, 2012). At stake in the religiopolitical debate are minority rights, equality, the legal and social definition of marriage and family; perhaps even our national character and the separation of church and state.

As the debate rages anew here in Colorado, familiar arguments from well-trenched positions have reemerged in the battle, as supporters argue for fairness, equal rights, and legal protection for same-sex couples and their children (Bartels, 2012).  While opponents argue that same-sex couples are immoral, that civil unions will lead to same-sex marriage, that marriage is between a man and a women, and that to allow same-sex marriage or even civil unions will lessen traditional marriage and by extension society (Bartels, 2012).  In addition, opponents frequently argue that children are better off when they have a mother and a father.  What should Coloradans make of these arguments?

Gay couples face overwhelming discrimination as the price of their sexuality; discrimination that is “baked” into the legal system, tax system, into the very fabric of society.  For example, Bernard and Lieber (Bernard & Lieber, 2012) found that gay couples would incur between roughly $41,000 and $460,000 dollars in additional costs over heterosexual couples, as a result of being in a committed, lifelong, same-sex, relationship.  The additional costs came from increased tax liability, reduced benefits, and increased legal costs (Bernard & Lieber, 2012).  The lesson for gay couples is simple; it pays to be straight.

Discrimination also occurs in the legal system, where despite anti-discrimination legislation, judicial stereotypes and bias in child custody cases is still a pervasive problem (Kendall, 2003).  Kendall (2003) finds that:

The judicial animus in these cases is directed at adult lesbians and gay men, the true brunt of the discrimination is borne by their children, who are inevitably harmed by decisions that undermine their love and respect for their parents and their pride in their families-and, by extension, themselves. (p. 1)

The irony in the situation is thick, as many opponents of civil union and same-sex marriage are arguing that gay parents somehow harm their children, a point of view recently articulated by GOP presidential contender, Rick Santorum (Krasny, 2012).  While Santorum lacked specifics on how specifically children of gay parents are harmed (Krasny, 2012), Zach Wahls, a University of Iowa student and Eagle scout that happens to be the child of a lesbian couple was eloquent in front of the Iowa legislature as he argued that “the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero affect on the content of my character” (James, 2011, p. 1).

Of course, it isn’t surprising that Zach turned out fine, despite having lesbian parents. Social science research has found “that children who grow up in homosexual families are much like children who grow up in heterosexual families” (Brym & Lie, 2007, p. 316).  Moreover, the scientific research is so overwhelmingly consistent, that the American Psychological Association (2004) issued a policy statement indicating that 1) they support legal protections for gay couples and their children, 2) they support protection of the parent-child relationships of same sex parents, 3) they will take a leadership role in opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 4) they will take an active role informing public discussion and policy development.  In summary, gay couples face ongoing discrimination in a variety of social institutions resulting in higher costs, less rights, and fewer legal protections than similar heterosexual couples, despite scientific research that suggests equal rights for same-sex couples would benefit society.  Why does civil society work to prevent gay couples from equal rights?

The simple answer is likely religion, or more correctly, the religiopolitical perspective shared by lawmakers and clergy, whose origins are scriptural in nature.  According to Brym and Lie (2007), many in the United States are part of a vast religious revival, while others are increasingly secular, “resulting in a world that is neither more secular, but one that is certainly more polarized” (p. 343).  Nowhere is polarization more apparent than in the gay marriage public debate.  Despite the founder’s intention to separate church and State, religion clearly holds sway in political life.  As the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee considered the civil union legislation, whose testimony opposed civil unions?  It was clergymen from both Catholic and Evangelical Churches, arguing that “homosexuality is immoral“ (Bartels, 2012, p. 1) and “anything that lessens [traditional marriage] lessens society at large. Marriage is the cornerstone of society” (Moreno, 2012, p. 1).   Conservative members of the GOP echo their reasoning, as if in one voice.  GOP contender Rick Santorum argued that “The uniqueness of marriage is it provides an intrinsic good to society” (Krasny, 2012, p. 1).  The gay marriage debate has demonstrated that church and State are bound together, seeking to use the definition of marriage as a legitimizing myth to prevent gay couples from participating equally in a civil society; their position a moral argument, rather than a legal one.

States legislatures and citizens across these United States are in the midst of determining whether gay people will receive equal rights and treatment under the law.  At stake, is more than the welfare of gay couples and their children.  Rather, the outcome of this debate will have implications for our national character and perhaps even more importantly, set the stage for the degree to which the United States will behave as a theocracy.  The XIV Amendment of the Bill of Rights is clear, stating “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (United States, 1868).  How then, can we citizens of these United States allow discrimination of gay couples?  There is no place in this debate for moral arguments, as the Bill of Rights is clear; the debate is about what is legal and what is right.  Who are clergy members to deny a person their rights based on a moral argument?  More importantly, who are we as citizens to deny gay couples their rights?  Providing equal protection under the law is an easy decision.  Deciding whether we will allow the U.S. religious revival to dominate politics to the point that citizens lose their civil rights is proving to be a tougher debate.


American Psychological Association. (2004, July 30, 2004). Sexual Orientation, Parents, & Children  Retrieved February 19, 2012, from http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/parenting.aspx

Associated Press. (2012, February 18, 2012). Legislatures open same-sex marriage brawl on multiple fronts  Retrieved February 18, 2012, from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/02/18/legislatures-open-same-sex-marriage-brawl-on-multiple-fronts/?test=latestnews

Bartels, L. (2012, February 16, 2012). Vote by Colorado Senate panel embraces civil unions  Retrieved February 18, 2012, from http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_19975260?source=commented-

Bernard, T. S., & Lieber, R. (2012, October 2, 2009). The High Price of Being a Gay Couple Your Money. Retrieved February 19, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/your-money/03money.html?pagewanted=all

Brym, R. J., & Lie, J. (2007). Sociology : your compass for a new world (Brief ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

James, S. D. (2011, February 3, 2011). Son of Iowa Lesbians Fights Gay Marriage Ban  Retrieved February 19, 2012, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/zach-wahls-son-lesbians-speech-anti-gay-legislators/story?id=12832200 – .T0Euqpi_FLo

Kendall, K. (2003, 2003). Lesbian and gay parents in child custody and visitation disputes. Human Rights, 1.

Krasny, R. (2012, January 5, 2012). Santorum sees “harm” to children with same-sex parents  Retrieved February 19, 2012, from PGM460 Week 6 Critical Thinking Richard Rock.docx

Moreno, I. (2012, February 16, 2012). Colorado Civil Union Bill Advances In State Senate; Headed Toward Showdown In Republican-Controlled House. Huffington Post  Retrieved February 18, 2012, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/16/colorado-civil-union-bill_n_1281353.html

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An Authentic Leadership Journey


Authentic leadership is a relatively new leadership theory, needed because of pervasive ethical and moral leadership problems of the 21st century.  The author conducts a personal exploration of authentic leadership in order to strengthen authentic leadership behaviors and shape new leadership opportunities.  This paper provides an overview of authentic leadership theoretical perspectives, describes the use of the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire to assess follower perception of the author’s authentic leadership, and shares the results of the assessment.  Furthermore, the paper outlines specific recommendations to increase the author’s self-awareness, building phronesis through a series of reflective and reflexive processes focused on developing the author’s leadership narrative and a perspective on the author’s aspirational self.

An Authentic Leadership Journey

            A leadership self-assessment is about opportunity, the opportunity to be a better leader, to improve the lives of followers, and to make a difference.  There are opportunities everywhere; businesses need to find new ways to create value, governments need to find new solutions to old problems, schools need to inspire a new generation of learners, and communities need new ways to improve the quality of life for their members.  Leaders are needed to pursue the opportunities of the 21st century, because problems are increasingly global, interrelated, and complex.  Consider the situation in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where the Whirlpool refrigerator factory is closing, and 1000 workers will be laid off because of increased global competition and the opening of an offshore plant in Mexico (Bartels, 2011).  Could the competitive situation at Whirlpool have been improved with the right leadership?  How could state and local government have collaborated with Whirlpool to find new ways to add value?  Who in the local community will emerge to stave off rampant unemployment and economic crisis?  How will local schools, colleges, and universities rally to retool to local labor pool?

George (2006) considers the question, “What, then, is the 21st-century leader all about? It is being authentic, uniquely yourself, the genuine article” (p. 1).  Authentic leadership is a relatively new leadership theory, arising from the ethical and moral leadership crisis’ so common in new century (F. Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, & Peterson, 2008); such as the Enron collapse, the global financial crisis, fictional intelligence used as pretext for war, the disappearing middle class, failure to reduce climate change, and countless other examples of leadership absent moral courage.  Many in both academic and applied management writing see authenticity as the leadership prescription to help emerging leaders restore hope, optimism, and purpose, thereby increasing both self-efficacy and leader effectiveness (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; George, 2007; Kouzes & Posner, 2007; Sparrowe, 2005).   Therefore, this author embarked on an authentic leadership journey to understand how improvements in leadership authenticity might shape new opportunities and strengthen personal leadership.

To describe the journey, this essay will include an overview of authentic leadership, describe the benefits of authentic leadership, describe the use of the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire as an instrument to assess authentic leadership, provide the results of the assessment, develop an analysis of the results, and develop recommendations to strengthen authentic leadership.  In addition, this essay will describe how the authentic leadership assessment helped the author identify opportunities to improve self-awareness, develop a standard for future leadership, and potentially improve follower trust, organizational citizenship behavior, and team productivity as a result.


Authentic leadership is “the extent to which a leader is aware of and exhibits pattern of openness and clarity in his/her behavior toward others by sharing the information needed to make decisions, accepting others’ inputs, and disclosing his/her personal values, motives, and sentiments in a manner that enables followers to more accurately assess the competence and morality of the leader’s actions” (F. O. Walumbwa, Wang, Wang, Schaubroeck, & Avolio, 2010, p. 901)  The origins of modern authentic leadership theory appear to stem from critical discourse of transformation leadership, as Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) sought to counter critical arguments suggesting transformational leadership was unethical.  Critics argued that transformational leadership allowed for the manipulation of followers and argued the theory lack’s treatment of moral and ethical issues might develop unscrupulous leaders that use the theory for nefarious purposes (Avolio, 2010; Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999).  These concerns prompted Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) to differentiate between the authentic transformational leader and the pseudo-transformational leader.  In 2001, Avolio (2010) began research to assure that leadership development did not simply develop pseudo-transformational leaders, rather focusing on “what ‘genuinely’ or ‘authentically’ developed leaders” (p. 1).  During a literature review, Tonkin (2010) found a variety of early definitions of authentic leadership, also noting that Avolio appeared to be the thought leader of authentic leadership theory.  Later, Avolio and Gardner (2005) developed a theoretical perspective of authentic leadership as distinct from other modern leadership theories, such as transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, and servant leadership, noting that transformational leaders require authenticity, while authentic leaders are not necessarily transformational.

Walumbwa, Avolio, Gardner, Wernsing, and Peterson (2008) published the results of a study designed to develop and test the Authentic Leadership Questionnaire (ALQ), a theory-based measurement instrument for authentic leadership.  In their study, Walumbwa, et al. (2008), found that the ALQ was both reliable and valid, authentic leadership could be discriminated from other leadership theories, and a positive relationship between authentic leadership and job performance.  Their definition was based on social psychological theory, recognized the importance of an internalized moral perspective, and focused on the development of authenticity in leaders and followers (F. Walumbwa, et al., 2008).  According to Walumbwa, et al., (2008), authentic leadership is defined as:

A pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information, and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development.  (p. 94)

From the definition, the ALQ is based on the four dimensions outlined and defined below (Avolio, Gardner, & Walumbwa, 2007):

  • Self-Awareness: To what degree is the leader aware of his or her strengths, limitations, how others see him or her and how the leader impacts others?
  • Transparency: To what degree does the leader reinforce a level of openness with others that provides them with an opportunity to be forthcoming with their ideas, challenges and opinions?
  • Ethical/Moral: To what degree does the leader set a high standard for moral and ethical conduct?
  • Balanced Processing: To what degree does the leader solicit sufficient opinions and viewpoints prior to making important decisions? (p. 1)


Since the release of the ALQ, numerous studies were that describe the positive benefits of authentic leadership in a variety of settings.  In their original study, Walumbwa, et al. (2008) found that authentic leadership was both significantly and positively related to organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB).  In a more recent study, Walumbwa, et al., (2010) demonstrated “that authentic leadership was significantly related to rated OCB and employee work engagement. Further, we found these relationships were explained by the degree to which employees identified with their supervisors and the extent to which employees’ felt psychologically empowered” (p. 910).

In addition, Thönissen (2009) noted a significant positive effect on both follower job satisfaction and performance, while Tonkin (2011a) found that self-awareness, transparency, and balanced processing had a positive effect on both OCB and job satisfaction, while morals and ethics and no significant effect on either.  The most recent study published by Hannah, Walumbwa, and Fry (2011) assessed the impact of authentic leadership on team productivity, finding that when teams had self-aware team members that behaved with transparency, ethics, and balance, team productivity was enhanced.  In addition, the research was the first authentic leadership study to “provide initial empirical evidence of the transference of team leader authenticity to team members’ authenticity” (Hannah, et al., 2011, p. 792), an exciting proposition suggestive of the contagious effect authentic leadership may have on teams.

Authentic leadership may have numerous positive benefits for leaders that improve follower perception of their self-awareness, morals/ethics, transparency, and balanced processing.  Potential benefits include improved follower job satisfaction, follower organizational commitment, and follower OCB.  In addition, authentic leadership behaviors may improve employee work engagement and team productivity.  Furthermore, the benefits may be contagious, as followers’ model norms of authentic leadership behavior.  Consequently, authentic leadership offers practical benefits to those seeking to assess and improve authentic leadership behaviors.


            The authentic leadership assessment was conducted using the ALQ, a four-dimension, sixteen-question, instrument found to be both reliable and valid (Avolio, et al., 2007; Tonkin, 2011b; F. Walumbwa, et al., 2008).  The ALQ uses a five-point Likert scale, rather than the ten-point scale suggested in the assignment.  Eighteen respondents received the survey request an e-survey tool.  The target respondents included a supervisor, peers, subordinates, and personal associates.  To limit potential bias, in this case social desirability (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960), the survey did not require demographic data describing respondent relationships to the author.  Therefore, the data does not include relationship information and comparisons are limited to self versus other.  Of the 18 (n=18) survey requests, there were 12 (n=12) total respondents.


Table 1 below, provides the summary results:

Table 1

ALQ Survey Summary Results 













Balanced Processing








Note: Others is the mean of the 12 respondents

The respondents, on average, tended to rate the author higher in each dimension than did the author, likely owing to the author’s knowledge of how the survey was used.  The author received highest ratings for the dimension of morals/ethics, while averaging above four for the dimension of transparency.  The author averaged the lowest ratings for the dimensions of balanced processing and self-awareness.  It is worth noting, that largest difference occurred for the dimension of transparency, with respondents rating the author far higher than did the author.

Practical Implications

            The low relative ratings for the dimension of balanced processing and self-awareness are suggestive of significant room for improvement.  According to Kliuchnikov (2011), “balanced processing implies that authentic leaders are capable of considering multiple sides of the issue at hand and analyzing all relevant information before making a decision” (p. 72).  In order to increase the perception of balanced processing in decision-making, the author needs to find ways to assure opposing viewpoints and relevant data are visibly considered.

Of more concern is the low relative rating for self-awareness, a dimension that occupies a central role in authentic leadership theory.  Ladkin and Taylor (2010) point out that “that authentic leadership is the expression of the ‘true self’, that the leader must be relatively aware of the nature of that self in order to express it authentically” (p. 5).  While Shamir and Eilam (2005) describe authentic leaders as those that possess self-knowledge that provides clarity and guides values and moral conviction.  One possible interpretation of the low relative rating for self-awareness is that others perceive a difference between the author’s view of their “true self”, versus their “true self”, giving rise to the notion that others may perceive the author as honestly delusional, a notion supported by Shamir and Eilam (2005) .  Another possible interpretation is that the author has low self-monitoring ability; the ability to monitor and adjust behavior based on the situation (Kinicki & Kreitner, 2008).  A final interpretation is that the author may not seek feedback from others often enough.  In order to improve self-awareness and the perception of self-awareness, the author needs to find ways to improve their understanding of and connection with their “true self”.


            Self-awareness or knowledge of one’s true self is a challenging topic given the plethora of theoretical perspectives that inform the topic (Duval & Silvia, 2002; Klenke, 2007; Ladkin & Taylor, 2010; Ricœur, 1992; Sparrowe, 2005; Toor & Ofori, 2010).  Duval, Silvia, and Lalwani (2001) describe a process of self-awareness as the comparison of object self against a standard of correctness when attention focuses on the self, finding that a person can address differences by either changing behavior to align to the standard, removal of attention away from the object self, or changing the standard.  Therefore, one potential intervention strategy is to identify the author’s standard of correctness as it pertains to leadership and determine specific differences in behavior.  However, the intervention may prove difficult given the lack of tools for self-reflection.

Sparrowe (2005) observes that many authentic leadership perspectives focus on the inward nature of self, suggesting that leaders look inward to identify their true self.  He goes on to frame an alternative perspective of self using Ricœur’s (1992) hermeneutic philosophical view; that of self as a narrative identity that provides meaning across the events of life.  In Ricœur’s view, others are related to the narrative self in two distinct ways, both as a source of imaginative possibility for the future narrative, and as persons with narratives that are intertwined with our own (Sparrowe, 2005). Therefore, self-awareness requires an understanding of the personal narrative, how the narrative self influences others, and others influence the narrative self.

Sparrowe (2005) recommends a series of interventions for authentic leaders that seek greater self-awareness.  Interventions include developing autobiographical works like journals or obituaries, identifying alternative positive variations of future narratives from other leaders through consumption of biographies, and using tools to engage others in helping identify a future narrative; such as the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship’s Reflective Best Self Exercise (Sparrowe, 2005).  Moreover, Shamir and Eilam (2005) make a similar recommendation for increasing self-awareness, suggesting that interventions include both reflected best self exercises and reflexive process that identify the positive jolts experienced by leaders in order to construct a leader’s life-story, or in Ricœur’s parlance, the leader’s narrative self.  Roche (2010) also supports the argument for the efficacy of reflective experience to gain practical wisdom based on the findings of from a recent quasi-experimental study.  Likewise, Kouzes and Posner (2007) describe the creation of a personal tribute as a method to clarify values, in similar fashion to the obituary described by Sparrowe (2005).

Thus, there appears to be significant congruence between authentic leadership scholars that increased self-awareness requires experiential processes to develop a leader’s personal leadership story.  The recommended approach to developing this author’s leadership story will include active journaling, the development of a personal tribute, and investment in the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship’s Reflective Best Self Exercise.  During the process of developing the leadership narrative, this author will seek to identify an aspirational standard for leadership correctness with which to target as a future, imaginative leadership possibility.


            The authentic leadership assessment helped this author identify specific recommendations to improve follower perception of balanced processing and self-awareness.  In fact, the assessment process was the beginning of the author’s authentic leadership journey.  The global, complex, interrelated problems of the 21st century require authentic leaders that seek ethical, balanced, and fair solutions to achieve the greatest possible good.  It is likely that the process of constructing the author’s leadership narrative is the first step towards identifying the type of leadership challenge that aligns with the author’s true self.  The authentic leadership assessment helped the author identify opportunities to improve self-awareness, but also is helping to shape a best possible future self.


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Inspired to Lead

Image Source: Dean McCoy

Can you imagine and see a time, when you drive down the road on a clear beautiful afternoon with your family?  As you travel further, the weather begins to change and the sky darkens.  You can feel and see and hear the difference.  Your visibility worsens and deep, penetrating fog sets in.  You slow down, uncertain about what is ahead.  Could there be a car in front of you, or a cliff?  Would you have time to react?  It’s a scary feeling, right?  A team without a clear vision for where they are going reacts in much the same way.  They may slow down, feel anxious, or seek ways to get out of the situation.  This is the reason that it is critical to inspire a shared vision for those you would lead.  And yet, as critical as inspiring a shared vision is to a team’s performance, it is also the leadership practice that most leaders struggle with (Kouzes & Posner, 2006).  We often study prolific leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Steve Jobs and yet very little time is spent on how their vision came into existence. I submit that inspiring a shared vision is a craft that any craftsman can create with the right perspective.

Challenge the Status Quo

            A colleague of mine, often reminds me that different isn’t always better, but better is always different.  “You find vision by reaching for any available reason to change, grow, and improve(Clark, 1997).” Kouzes and Posner noted in their research that challenging the process is one of the five practices of exemplary leaders (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).  It takes courage to challenge the status quo, because there are frequently vested interests that seek to maintain a business as usual approach.

Be Optimistic

            “Leaders have to enlist others in a common vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).”  For others to want to share in the vision and want to be inspired, the vision must be both exciting and possible.

Aspire to the Greatest Good

            There is always a greater good.  The greater good is that which serves the larger group and is inherently connected to a vision.  A leader sits between his team and the greater good and has the role of aligning the aspirations of each individual to the greater good.  To do that, a leader must navigate between the many levels of good and the aspirations of the team members.  The greater the good, the more inspiring the vision is.  For example, contrast the success of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with that of the original show, Extreme Makeover.  The original show focused on helping an individual with their physical appearance, whereas the Home Edition focuses on helping an entire family reestablish their lives.  Which is still on the air?

The Language of Vision

            In one sense, a vision can be described as an experience.  How can you help people have a shared experience?  The language of a vision will differ based on the representation systems of the team members.  Some may be more apt to see a visual representation, while others will want to hear what the future will be like for them personally, and yet other may want to study the rationale behind the vision.  You must understand your team and their language of value to help them experience the vision together.

Using the Timeline

Each of us has a timeline that extends far back to our first experiences and as far into the future as we wish to look.  “When we gaze first into our past, we elongate our future (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).”  By helping the team to first look to the past, we gain the value of perspective and their experiences.

Goal Setting is the Roadmap

As we have our teams envision the future timeline and see the achievement of the vision, key questions can set be used to create specific goals that measure both progress and results.  As we move down the timeline, how will we know that progress is being made? What will it feel like and be like?  What will be different?  These clarifying questions can help solidify the definition of success and form those definitions into specific goals.  We can then lay the goals across the timeline to form a roadmap.

Be Contagious

“Getting people to accomplish something is much easier if they have the inspiration to do so (Clark, 1997).” Your passion is contagious.  Your passion will tell your team that their effort will make a difference.

The ability to inspire a shared vision is within each of us.  Like anything else, it is a skill to be honed through practice and use.  Thomas Edison once famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration (“Edison Lecture Series,” 2010).”  Inspiring a shared vision is about getting the inspiration right, so the perspiration creates the right results.


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