Asish K Bhattacharyya[1]

[A full article on this topic is available at:]

COVID 19 has created extreme disruption to the functioning of business firms (firms). Every firm faces disruption some time or the other in its life. In the rapidly changing business environment disruptions are more frequent than what it was a decade back. It is true that the disruptions that a business face in its life are not of the magnitude caused by COVI-19 pandemic, yet they create disruptions of significant magnitude.

When the employees go through a disruptive phase, team members worry about what is happening and what will happen next. For example, they worry about job loss or salary cut. For example, in COVID 19 situation job loss is almost inevitable. Every employee is worried about the layoff policy of its company. They are worried, because alternative employment or source of income is not available. The situation is so uncertain that no one knows when the crisis will be over and when the economy will revive. In that situation they look for guidance from someone respected (because of capabilities) and trusted. They look for unbiased decisions. 

Extreme disruptions prompt ‘counterproductive coping behaviours’, for example, team members may downplay the crisis or may give up to the panic. In the initial phase of the spread of COVID 19 people down played the crisis and held optimistic view that it would end soon. As the crisis prolonged, number of infected people and number of people died increased exponentially, the panic gripped the entire society, particularly hot spots. In such a  situation, the leader helps the  members to ‘face down reality’. Appreciating the harsh reality early makes the team members and the organisation resilient.

During adversity, the protective and facilitative factors  -  confidence in abilities, disciplined routines for the work and family support,  get weakened. Leaders preserve and rebuild the ‘protective and facilitative factors’ of team  members by extending their helping hand, communicating with every team member and taking care of the team member and his family. When a trusted and respected leader shows his personal concerns and  care for a team member, he does not doubt the sincerity of the leader and genuineness of compassion demonstrated by the him. This results in restoration of confidence and reduction in stress. The firm benefits, as the productivity is not significantly affected by the crisis.

During adversity, rumours float in grapevine and spread fast through WhatsApp university aggravating the situation. Rumours create high level of confusion and demoralise team members. When the trusted leader shares his assessment of the situation and regularly give new information, team members do not doubt the analyses and ignores grapevine information. This minimises confusion and helps team members to see the reality. 

During disruption leaders have to share bad news (e.g., news about lay-off). When a trusted and respected leader shares the bad news with the team member, he perceives that the leader has no other option in order to ensure survival of the firm and the team believes that the leader has identified the members to be laid off objectively without bias. This keeps the motivation level of the team high. This is important for the survival of the company. 

Adversity provides opportunities also. Survival and building resilience requires  identifying those opportunities early. Adversity puts blinders on our eyes and we fail to think innovatively. We fail to see opportunities within adversity. A capable and trusted leader help team members to see those opportunities. 

A leader to be successful in a crisis situation must continue the relationship of trust with team members. This requires disclosure of personal information. He needs to share his concerns and worries with team members. Complete disclosure might create panic among them. Therefore, the leader should have the capability to decide correctly how much personal information to be shared with team members. The leader should have the  expertise and abilities to judge the situation to build ‘bounded expectations’ rather than being over optimistic. This helps in keeping morale of the team high and spreading optimism in a difficult situation.  

In adversity, leaders’ responsibility is to formulate and implement survival strategy and build resilience to ensure that the firm survives the crisis and grows after the crisis is over. Only those leaders who create an environment of trust during good times are successful in negotiating a bad phase and achieve the goals of survival and building resilience. 

Only authentic leaders are successful in negotiating through the adversity and build resilience required to succeed in post-crisis situation.


In philosophical sense authenticity in the context of human behaviour implies acting in accordance with one’s ‘true self’. Older idea of ‘true self’ was that it is ‘pre-given set of substantive feelings, opinions and desires to be consulted through inward-turning or introspection.’ However, later philosophers abandoned that idea of ‘true self’. According to them, we are thrown into a world and a situation, which are not our own making, but they constrain our choices.  When we are thrown in that world and situation, we get absorbed in practical affairs. We take decisions and actions to accomplish the tasks demanded by that world and the situation. Our actions to accomplish tasks cumulatively creates us as a person of particular sort. Consequently,  ‘true self’ is an ongoing narrative construction.

Authenticity has four components -  awareness, unbiased processing, behaviour and relational orientation. 

Awareness component implies that the authentic individual is aware that he possesses knowledge of his motives, feelings, desires and self-relevant cognitions. He trusts on those and is motivated to increase the same. For example, he understands his likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, goals and aspirations, dispositional characteristics, and emotional states.  

Unbiased processing component implies that the authentic individual processes self-relevant information in an unbiased manner, that is, without  interpretive distortions (e.g., defensiveness and self-aggrandizement). 

Behaviour component implies that the authentic individual behaves in accord with his values, preferences and needs. He does not behave ‘falsely’ to please others or to attain rewards or avoid punishment.

Relational authenticity implies that in behaving with close others (e.g., team members) he is genuine rather than fake. An authentic individual maintains the relationship in a manner that closed others are able to see his ‘real’ and facilitates others being able to do so. Authentic relationships involve a reciprocal process of self-disclosure and the development of mutual intimacy and trust.

In certain situations, expression of one’s true self may result in severe social sanctions. In those situations, the authentic individual does not demonstrate blind obedience to environmental forces, rather he demonstrates understanding of the sensitivity to the fit (or lack thereof) between his true self and the dictates of the environment, and heightened awareness of the potential implications of his behavioural choices. This might result in short-term internal conflict. However, the authentic individual’s choice has significant implications for her felt integrity and authenticity. This causes distress. Therefore, that authentic individual prefers to avoid those situations and environment where his true self does not fit with environment’s dictates.

Authenticity is reflected not in the compulsion to be one’s true self but rather in the free and natural expression of core feelings, motives and implications.

Authentic leader

Authentic leaders display four types of behaviours - balanced processing, internalized moral perspective, relational transparency, and self-awareness.

Authentic leaders solicit views from others that have the potential to challenge their existing positions and, before making a decision, objectively analyse all relevant information. They behave based on internal moral standards and values and their behaviour are not based on external pressures such as peers, organizational, and societal pressure. They make personal disclosures, openly share information and express true thoughts and feelings. They are self-aware. They have knowledge of their mental states, including their beliefs, desires and feelings. They understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and motives. They also have “reflected self-image” (how others perceive the leader). They recognise how others view their leadership [self-awareness].

Authentic leaders might choose how they present themselves, but they remain authentic, as they accurately reflect aspects of their inner selves. Both leaders and followers associate authenticity with sincerity, honesty and integrity. However, authentic leaders control how others see them through. In order to create the perception of authenticity, they maintain consistency between words and deeds and present different faces to different audiences. They know which personality traits they should reveal to whom, and when. They are highly attuned to their environments.

They understand the expectations and concerns of the people they seek to influence based on an intuition, born of formative, sometimes harsh experiences. They retain their distinctiveness as individuals, yet they win acceptance in strong corporate and social cultures and use elements of those cultures as a basis for radical change. They focus on building followers’ strengths, broadening their thinking and creating a positive and engaging organizational context.

They balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. They are not driven solely by extrinsic motivational factors like monetary reward and power etc. They are driven more by intrinsic motivational factors like joy of serving others, recognition by peers, and reputation.

Authentic leadership in practice

Some experts classify psychological profiles of authentic leaders into two categories – chameleons (high self-monitors”) and “true-to-selfers” ( “low self- monitors”).

Chameleons are flexible. They do not feel fake while adopting to the demands of a situation. They care managing their public image and try different styles until they find a good fit for themselves and the circumstances. Although, they express their true chameleon nature, they run the danger that they may be perceived as disingenuous. However, chameleons succeed in achieving their goals.

“True-to-selfers” do not have the flexibility that Chameleons have. They tend to express what they really think and feel, even when it runs counter to situational demands. They stick too long with comfortable behaviour. They often find it difficult to manage the tension between authority and approachability. True-to-selfers often find ‘getting buy-in’ distasteful. For example, even in the initial stage of their professional career, they never go to the boss to showcase their performance and achievements and persuade their boss about their ideas which work well in the given situation. They feel that the boss should have noticed. Chance of success of Chameleons is much higher than that of ‘true-to-selfers’.

Self-disclosure is important for building relationship of trust. However, it can backfire if ‘it is hastily conceived, poorly timed, or inconsistent with cultural or organisational norms’. One must have good communication skills in order to express own story well. A story is worthwhile only when it is expressed well. For example, immediately after joining a highly reputed organisation from a less reputed organisation in a higher position, if the manager communicates to his team members immediately after joining such things as, ‘I always aspired for this position, but now I am at sea and I need your support’, it is surely to misfire, as he loses credibility on the very first day.

Most great leaders have highly developed social antenna. They recognise what followers are consciously or unconsciously signalling them by using complex mix of cognitive and observational skills. They also observe that authentic leaders create just enough distance from the norms to make themselves special and attractive. They make the right judgement of how much to conform to social and organisational norms, as too much conformity make the leader ineffective and too little isolate her.


In leadership, authenticity matters, leadership style does not matter. We should search our core by building narratives around our own stories of formative years and refine it with our experience. We should learn from leaders, but should never imitate them. We should keep in mind that authenticity means ‘real’ and imitation cannot be real. We should endeavour to develop the ‘chameleon’ profile to succeed in achieving our goals. Chameleons are authentic but are able to read the situations well and act accordingly, without behaving against the voice of their ‘core self’.

Only an authentic leader can lead during adversity, because he, over the years, could build the relationship of trust with team members and others. In a very short period, people who surround us, may fail to look through us and start trusting us even if we do not act with authenticity. However, over a period of time they realise that we are fake and not real, if we are not authentic.

An individual who does not act and behave at the call of his ‘inner-self’ in his professional and personal life, faces emotional crisis at some point in time when ‘why’ crops up, because he cannot answer ‘why’ he acted and behaved the way he acted and behaved so far in his life.

[1] Prof. Asish K Bhattacharyya is the Founder of Nonlinear Insights. He is a Former Professor of IIM Calcutta and Ex-Director of IMT Ghaziabad.

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