The perils of authentic leadership theory

Katja Einola, Mats Alvesson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In this commentary we lay out what to us appear as perils of authentic leadership theory (ALT) in a modest effort to help weed out one theory that has gone amiss to pave the way for new ideas. We have made a detailed argument against authentic leadership theory elsewhere (Alvesson & Einola, 2019; Gardner, Karam, Alvesson & Einola, 2020; see also Sveningsson & Nyberg, 2014; Tourish, 2019) and are not going to repeat ourselves here. Instead, we focus on developing an argument for why ALT is not only wrong in a harmless manner but it may be outright perilous to leadership scholars, scholarship and those who believe in it. Of course, the consequences of ALT are not devastating in the same way and magnitude as those of a global pandemic or the weakening of democratic institutions, for instance. Still, we claim it is harmful -- but in ways that our community of researchers can collectively counteract. We together can decide where we want to go from here. Even though our focus is on authentic leadership theory, we consider it only as an example, one member of a much larger dysfunctional family of positive leadership theories celebrating good qualities in a leader linked with good outcomes and positive follower 'effects' almost by definition.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalLeadership
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)483-490
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 27.03.2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • leadership
  • authenticity
  • authentic leadership
  • critique
  • research
  • identity

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Leading for growth and well-being
  • AoS: Responsible organising


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